In honor of the Magic’s 30th anniversary, we are counting down the top 30 games in franchise history.
It may seem like a lifetime ago considering the team’s current never-ending rebuild, but over the last three decades, there have been quite a few memorable moments in Magic history. Whether it was a crucial playoff victory, a dominant individual performance, or even a devastating loss. Yes, there are actually some Magic losses included in this list. They may bring back painful memories, but they are classic games nonetheless.
So check out Part I of the Top 30 games feature here and Part II here, as we take a trip down memory lane and relive these Magic moments. Also be sure to check out Aaron Goldstone’s ranking of the Top 30 Players in Magic History.
Share your thoughts and memories below. Let the countdown begin....
10. Nick Anderson’s game-winner in Shaq’s return (February 22, 1998)
This game was very personal for Magic fans. Shaquille O’Neal returned to Orlando for the first time since signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1996. Playing against the heavily-favored Lakers without Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson took over, scoring 30 points, including a three that gave the Magic a 96-94 lead with 7.1 seconds left. While running back down court, he then mocked Shaq, making the moment even sweeter.
9. T-Mac goes for 62 (March 10, 2004)
It was the most dominant offensive performance in franchise history. Tracy McGrady scored a career-high 62 points, eclipsing Shaq’s team-best of 53 points set in 1994. McGrady shot 20-for-37 from the field and added 10 rebounds and five assists in a 108-99 win over the Washington Wizards.
8. LeBron’s rip-your-heart-out buzzer beater (May 22, 2009)
The Magic stole Game 1 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals (more on that coming soon) and were literally one second away from going back to Orlando with a 2-0 series lead after a pull-up jumper by Hedo Turkoglu gave the Magic a two-point lead. But LeBron James would have none of that, hitting a three at the buzzer for what remains one of the most iconic plays of his legendary career. In the moment, thinking it may have just ruined what was a sure trip to the Finals, it was (IMO) the most crushing loss in franchise history. But, as we all know, the resilient Magic would go on to win the series in six games.
7. Penny’s back-to-back 40-point games (April 29-May 1, 1997)
It was the first postseason for the Magic in what was the post-Shaq era. The seventh-seeded Magic were no match whatsoever for the second-seeded Heat in the first two games of the best-of-five first round. But thanks to Penny Hardaway’s 42-point performance in Game 3 and 41-point performance in Game 4, the Magic forced a deciding Game 5 (which they lost despite 33 points from Hardaway).
Penny Hardaway: 1997 Playoffs
Game 3: 42 points, 16-for-30 FG, 9-for-10 FT, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals in 88-75 win
Game 4: 41 points, 12-for-23 FG, 13-for-16 FT, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks in 99-91 win
6. 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1 (May 20, 2009)
The Magic erased what had been a 15-point halftime deficit, taking the lead early in the fourth on a three by Anthony Johnson. There would be four lead changes in the final minute, with the last being on a three by Rashard Lewis with 14.7 seconds left to give the Magic a 107-106 lead. Off a jump ball with one second remaining, Mo Williams missed a 17-footer at the buzzer as the Magic stole Game 1 on the road. Dwight Howard had 30 points and 13 rebounds, Lewis had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Turkolgu added 15 points and 14 assists. LeBron James had 49 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a losing effort.
5. 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4 (May 26, 2009)
What was amazing about the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals is that in each of the first four games of the series, the ball was in the air at the buzzer with the game on the line. In Game 4, with the Magic trailing by one with 6.4 seconds remaining, Hedo Turkoglu inbounded to Rashard Lewis, who turned along the sideline and drained a three to give the Magic a 100-98 lead with 4.1 seconds to go. LeBron James then hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds remainging to force overtime. There, Dwight Howard scored 10 points, Lewis hit some key free throws, and LeBron missed what would have been a game-winning buzzer-beating heave from just inside mid-court as the Magic held on for a 116-114 win to take a 3-1 series lead.
4. Magic eliminate Jordan and the Bulls (May 18, 1995)
In Game 6 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Magic held the Bulls scoreless over the final 3:24 of the game to erase an eight-point en route to a 108-102 victory. Nick Anderson hit the go-ahead jumper with 42.8 seconds left to give the Magic a 103-102 lead as the win spoiled Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA, and marked the last time that Jordan would be eliminated in postseason play. After the game, former Bull Horace Grant was hoisted into the air by his teammates. “I felt 10 feet tall out there,” Grant told reporters. “It felt great to win here. I don’t care tonight where we got it done, even if it was Siberia. But to have it done in Chicago does give me satisfaction.”
3. The Steal (May 7, 1995)
Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Nick Anderson. Michael Jordan. No other explanation needed.
2. Magic advance to the Finals for the first time (June 4, 1995)
Success came to the Magic organization early, as they advanced to the NBA Finals in what was just the team’s sixth season of existence. In a decisive Game 7, the party started early in Orlando thanks in part to a 13-1 run that blew the game open. Shaquille O’Neal had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Dennis Scott shot 5 of 7 from three and had 19 points, Penny Hardaway had 17 points and four assists, Horace Grant had 16 points and nine rebounds, and NIck Anderson added 12 points and seven assists as the young Magic secured a match-up against the Houston Rockets. “Everybody kept saying we couldn’t shoot free throws, we didn’t have the experience, we couldn’t go all the way,” Hardaway told reporters after the game. “It motivated us, it really did. While everybody was criticizing, we just kept playing ball.”
1. Back to the Finals (May 30, 2009)
When Orlando made it to the NBA Finals in 1995, despite being swept by the Rockets, it seemed inevitable that Shaq, Penny and the Magic would soon hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. It was only a matter of time. Success seemed promised, too easy almost. Clashing personalities, Michael Jordan, free agency and injuries then showed that nothing is promised or easy when it comes to winning an NBA championship.
And for that reason, the Magic’s unexpected run to the 2009 NBA Finals is considered here the best game in franchise history. The Magic had suffered through Shaq’s defection, Penny’s bad knees, Tracy McGrady’s one-and done playoff series stretch, Grant Hill’s ankles, and a 21-win season that landed the top pick and sparked the turnaround. It took 14 years to get back to a place that in 1995 seemed would be an annual destination. That made this victory, and this season, that much more meaningful.
Defeating LeBron James and the top-seeded Cavs in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to get there, only made it more enjoyable. The Magic denied the world the LeBron vs. Kobe match-up that just about everyone outside of Orlando expected/wanted to see.
Dwight Howard had 40 points, on 14-for-21 shooting (12-for-16 from the line!), and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Magic built a 10-point first quarter lead and never trailed in the game.
“This team has fought really, really hard,” Stan Van Gundy told reporters after the game. “Our reward is you get to go from preparing for LeBron to preparing for Kobe. I’m not doing that tonight.”