Orlandoversary is a new series on OPP that will look back at some of the memorable moments in Orlando Magic history
Not born until the late-1980s, the Orlando Magic don’t have a rich, illustrious history. Over the years however, one of the franchise’s recurring nightmares has been losing superstar players in their prime.
That was the dilemma facing the Magic heading into the 2004-05 season. Orlando had traded Tracy McGrady, an All-Star in each of his four seasons with the team and a two-time scoring champion, to Houston.
Although the 2004-05 season didn’t end up being a season to remember fondly for Magic fans, it started off with a bang as one of the players acquired in the McGrady deal played the role of hero. 15 years ago, guard Steve Francis scored the winning basket in the game’s final second of the season opener to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in a 93-92 thriller at the TD Waterhouse Centre.
Francis had been a three-time All-Star with the Houston Rockets when he, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato were acquired in the deal for McGrady. Francis wasted no time making his presence in Orlando felt as he finished his Magic debut with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists on Nov. 3, 2004.
The Magic held a 50-47 lead at the break in the opener before opening a 15-point lead midway through the third quarter. Down 72-57, the Bucks would seize momentum with a 28-9 run that spanned about nine minutes to the midway point of the fourth quarter.
After Milwaukee pulled in front, 85-81, the Magic drew even with consecutive baskets from Francis and No. 1 overall pick Dwight Howard, who was making his debut as a rookie, with less than six minutes to play.
The contest would see one tie and six lead changes over the final 4:03. Toni Kukoc scored a pair of baskets to give the Bucks a 90-89 lead, but after nearly two minutes of scoreless basketball, Grant Hill’s short jumper put the Magic in front with 19 seconds remaining.
With the game in the balance, Milwaukee guard Michael Redd showed why he was coming off his first career All-Star appearance. With less than four seconds remaining, Redd banked in a 20-foot jumper to put the Bucks in front and to seemingly send the Magic to an 0-1 record. With 3.5 seconds to go, Francis had other plans.
Orlando inbounded from the Milwaukee side of the court and Francis took the pass from Hill and proceeded to beat Bucks’ guard Mo Williams to the basket. Francis was able to draw contact and finish at the rim for a three-point play opportunity with just 0.2 seconds remaining. His free throw attempt was no good, but it did not matter as the Magic prevailed in dramatic fashion.
In addition to Francis’ big night, Hill finished with 20 points for the Magic. Howard and Mobley each added 12 points. Howard also grabbed 10 rebounds in what would be the first of his 457 double-doubles as a member of the Magic. Redd led the Bucks with 19 points while Keith Van Horn added 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds in the loss.
Although he averaged better than 19 points per game as a member of the Magic, Francis lasted less than two full seasons in Orlando. While many had hoped for a better tenure from the three-time All-Star, that short stint began with heroics.