The NBA Finals begin tonight.
Much has been made of this being the first time in a long time that the Finals will be without LeBron James. Over the last decade or so, only two Eastern Conference teams have denied LeBron entry into the NBA Finals, and one of them was the Orlando Magic.
It was 10 years ago today that Magic defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, advancing to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history. Other than the two Eastern Conference teams that LeBron has played for, the Magic are the only team in the East that LeBron never defeated in a playoff series. The Magic also denied the basketball world the LeBron/Kobe championship match-up...
The series between the Magic and the Cavs was a thriller. In three of the first four games, the ball was in the air with the game on the line as the buzzer sounded. Rashard Lewis during the series earned every cent of his very lucrative contract with some series-saving threes. The Magic showed their resilience by bouncing back from LeBron’s devastating buzzer beater in Game 2. And Dwight Howard had a dominant performance in Game 6 exactly a decade ago to the day to send the Magic back to the Finals, a game that we ranked as the best in Magic history:
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.”
Take a trip down memory lane with some highlights from the series…