Since punching their ticket to the NBA Finals in 2009, the Orlando Magic haven't had much cause for celebration. The Los Angeles Lakers ended their title hopes, 4-1, and the Boston Celtics upset Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals one year later. The Magic haven't won a playoff series since, and after trading Dwight Howard in August, it looks like they're a long way off from any sort of postseason success.
But it's Comeback Day here at Orlando Pinstriped Post and SB Nation's NBA network, and we don't wish to accentuate the negative. We're highlighting great comeback moments in the histories of the teams they cover, whether that comeback refers to a specific player, game, or season. And no Orlando season had more comebacks than the thrilling 2009 campaign.
The Magic overcame the odds throughout the season, particularly after Jameer Nelson tore the labrum in his left shoulder in a collision with Erick Dampier in early February. Nelson was in the midst of an All-Star campaign--he joined Howard and Rashard Lewis as the Magic's representatives in Phoenix that year, though he was unable to play--and the team lost several steps offensively with Anthony Johnson filling Nelson's shoes. Hedo Türkoğlu, J.J. Redick, and Courtney Lee had to move out-of-position to run the point, and trading Keith Bogans for Tyronn Lue didn't amount to much.
A trade-deadline deal for Rafer Alston, of all people, rescued Orlando's season. Though unspectacular in pinstripes--he averaged 12 points and 5.1 assists per game and shot only 41.3 percent from the floor--Alston played steadily enough to keep the Magic afloat; his presence enabled Türkoğlu, Lee, Redick, and Johnson to return to their normal roles.
The real comeback magic happened in the postseason, however. Orlando was on the verge of elimination in the first round of the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers owing to game-winning shots by Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young in Games One and Three, respectively. Türkoğlu drilled a three-pointer over Young himself in Game Four to even the series, and Orlando never looked back, advancing to the second round for the second time in as many seasons.
Orlando continued to ride high, upsetting Boston in Game One of the Conference Semis. The Celtics, who had represented the East in the last two NBA Finals, responded by winning three of the next four games, putting the Magic in a 3-2 hole.
But the Magic held serve at home in Game Six, and then blew Boston out of its own gym in Game Seven, 101-82, to punch its ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals. Türkoğlu played the game of his life, pouring in 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with 12 assists and just three turnovers, while Mickaël Piétrus added 17 off the bench.
The Magic then had a date with LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. The reigning MVP helped his squad to a 15-point halftime advantage in Game One, but Orlando, under the stewardship of coach Stan Van Gundy, battled back. A camera in a Magic huddle during a late timeout captured Van Gundy telling his team, "We've been there before, and they haven't."
He was right. Cleveland swept the first two rounds of the postseason by an average of 16.8 points per game; it hadn't dealt with any sort of adversity. Orlando had, and its experience showed. Lewis calmly shed Anderson Varejão with a rocker step on the right wing, elevated, and banged in a three-pointer to give the Magic a one-point lead with 14.7 seconds remaining, and Orlando's defense held just tightly enough to close out Game One with a victory.
There's no question, not to me, that the 2009 Magic squad is the finest in the team's history. There's also no question that its spirit epitomizes the word "comeback." Today, Orlando Pinstriped Post salutes that team.