Shock came over the NBA and the sports world early last Sunday as reports surfaced that Los Angeles Lakers’ legendary guard Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine dead in a Los Angeles-area helicopter crash.
That evening and in the days since, NBA teams and players have done their part to honor the memory of Bryant, who passed at just 41 years old. In last Sunday’s contest at the Amway Center between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers, the teams traded violations to honor Bryant.
The Clippers controlled the tip and took a 24-second violation. Orlando reciprocated with an eight-second violation. During Bryant’s 20-year NBA career, he wore jersey Nos. 8 and 24. Throughout that career, Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, a five-time world champion, four-time All-Star Game MVP, two-time scoring champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP and a league MVP.
With the exception of the 2008-09 season, Bryant and the Magic saw each other just twice per season. During the 2008-09 season, they met seven times as Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers squared off in the 2009 NBA Finals.
Over the last few days, we’ve been looking at several aspects of Bryant’s legendary career as it relates to the Magic. On Saturday, we looked back on the best regular season games between Bryant and Orlando.
We wrap up our series with a look back the 2009 NBA Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers had reached the NBA Finals in 2008, but proved to be no match for the revamped Boston Celtics. With a “Big 3” that now had Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett alongside Paul Pierce, the Celtics topped the Lakers in six games.
During the 2008-09 season, Los Angeles finished with a record of 65-17. That was good for tops in the Western Conference and only LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers had a better record. Throughout the postseason however, things didn’t come easy for the Lakers.
After sweeping the Utah Jazz in the first round, the Lakers were pushed to seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals against a Houston Rockets’ team that was without star guard Tracy McGrady. In the decisive Game 7, the Lakers held Houston to 37 percent shooting while center Pau Gasol led Los Angeles with 21 points and 18 rebounds in an 89-70 win for the Lakers.
In the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers and Denver Nuggets alternated wins through the first five games before Kobe Bryant’s 35-point performance at the Pepsi Center in Game 6 clinched the series. For the sixth time in the decade, the Lakers were NBA Finals-bound.
As for Orlando, it finished 59-23 and as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. In the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic fell behind two games to one, but rallied to win the final three games, including the last with superstar center Dwight Howard suspended.
With Garnett out for Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Orlando missed a golden opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead. In Game 4, Celtics’ forward Glen Davis hit a buzzer beater at the horn to lift his team to a 95-94 victory and even the series at two games apiece.
After the Magic let a big lead slip away in Game 5, it looked as though Boston would easily advance. No team had ever beat the Celtics after trailing 3-2 in a series, but Orlando closed Game 6 on an 8-0 run to force a decisive Game 7. There, the Magic obliterated the Celtics, 101-82.
Matched up with the Cavaliers, owners of the league’s best record, in the Eastern Conference Finals, Orlando rallied from 16 points down to win Game 1 in Cleveland, courtesy of a late three-pointer from Rashard Lewis.
The Magic took care of their home court, winning all three games in Orlando. That included an 116-114 overtime thriller in Game 4. Howard finished with 40 points and 14 rebounds in the 103-90 victory in Game 6 to clinch the Magic’s second-ever trip to the NBA Finals.
Out in L.A.
Beginning a series away from Amway Arena was nothing unusual for the Magic as they began the 2009 NBA Finals at the Staples Center. Orlando had stole Game 1 in each of the previous two series, but that would not be the case against Bryant and the Lakers.
Playing in the NBA Finals for the first time in 14 years, Orlando enjoyed a 33-28 lead early in the second quarter, but would manage just 42 points for the remainder of the game. The Magic were held to 30 percent shooting as a team while Bryant finished the night with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 100-75 win for Los Angeles.
Where the NBA Finals was decided
During the course of the 2009 NBA Finals, the Magic dropped a pair of heartbreakers. Those came in the evened numbers games as Orlando missed opportunities to close things out at the end of regulation in each of the two contests.
With less than a minute to go in Game 2, Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu gave the Magic an 88-86 lead, but Pau Gasol had the answer on the other end. After Turkoglu blocked Bryant to give Orlando the final shot, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy drew up a gem of an inbound play, but it could not quite be executed.
Just before time expired, rookie guard Courtney Lee caught a lop near the rim. Unfortunately for Lee, he was unable to finish over Gasol and the contest went into overtime. After a three-point play from Dwight Howard gave the Magic the lead in the extra period, the Lakers answered with a 7-0 run to seize control of the contest in a 101-96 victory.
In Game 4 back in Orlando, the Magic led by five with less than a minute to play. After a Gasol lay-in with 32 seconds to play cut the lead to three, Orlando center Dwight Howard was sent to line, needing just one free throw to seal the victory.
Howard missed on both and Lakers’ guard Derek Fisher dribbled to the other end of the floor before making a contested three-pointer over Jameer Nelson to force overtime. Los Angeles scored the final eight points in overtime in a 99-91 victory.
The lone Magic victory
After getting swept by the Houston Rockets in the 1995 NBA Finals and dropping the first two games in Los Angeles, the Magic arrived at the Amway Center for Game 3 with an 0-6 record all-time in the NBA Finals. That night, Orlando would tally its first-ever Finals win.
In a 108-104 victory for Orlando, the Magic shot an NBA Finals record 63 percent from the field. Five different Magic players scored at least 18 points in the victory, led by 21 each from Howard and Rashard Lewis. Bryant led all scorers with 31 points, but Howard grabbed 14 rebounds as the win brought life to the Magic.
After dropping the Game 4 heartbreaker, it didn’t seem as though Orlando had much in the tank for Game 5. The Lakers would clinch the series with a 99-86 win at Amway Arena to win the NBA Finals four games to one.
Orlando led after a quarter, but trailed by 10 at halftime and by as many as 18 points in the second half. Bryant finished with 30 points to cap an outstanding series and earn MVP honors.
Then and since
The 2009 NBA Finals was quite the display of Bryant’s greatness. Over the five games, the legendary Laker averaged 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists. That would be Bryant’s highest scoring average in any of the seven NBA Finals in which he played.
The following year, Bryant would win his second straight NBA Finals MVP and his fifth NBA title as the Lakers outlasted the Boston Celtics in seven games. Orlando nearly returned to the NBA Finals, but was unable to rally from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, falling in six games.
Since the 2009-10 season, the Magic have not won a playoff series. As for the Lakers, they fell in the Western Conference Finals and Semifinals in the two seasons to follow the repeat. Neither franchise has won a playoff series since the 2011-12 season, but most believe the Lakers will change that. Orlando is in line for a second straight playoff appearance after going six years without making the postseason.
Remembering Kobe Bryant
One week ago, the NBA world was shook when Bryant was reported to be among nine dead in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles. Whether one loved or hated Bryant as a player, it’s not hard to make the argument that he was the face of a generation in the NBA.
Regarded for his work ethic and killer instinct, Bryant was a truly special player emulated on numerous occasions in driveways, gymnasiums and parks by children and adults alike. Regardless of the impact that Bryant had on anyone reading this, his unexpected death is a lesson to us all on how precious life is and how quickly it can be gone.
For any basketball fan who has watched the NBA over the last several years or several decades for that matter, it’s hard to say the name Kobe Bryant and not have some basketball memory immediately pop into the mind. We hope you found this four-part series worth your time.
Hopefully it brought back good memories for those reading and did Bryant justice for just how special of a player that he was. Our thoughts remain with Bryant’s family and friends.