Without Anfernee Hardaway in the lineup, winning wasn’t always easy for the Orlando Magic. On this day 25 years ago, however, the club pulled off a comeback for the ages.
Playing without Hardaway for the fourth straight game, a 20-point fourth quarter deficit wasn’t too much for the Magic to overcome. They erased that advantage before topping the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime, 96-93.
The Magic were 6-4 and playing on the second night of a back-to-back as they arrived at Gund Arena on Nov. 19, 1997. Trailing 81-61 with less than nine minutes to go, it looked like a lost cause, but Chuck Daly’s team refused to quit.
Orlando’s bench of Darrell Armstrong, Derek Strong, and Brian Evans led a 26-6 run to end regulation, which included the final 11 points of the fourth quarter. Evans started the run with a bank shot before three Strong free throws and a jumper cut the lead to two.
With just 17 seconds left and Orlando trailing 87-85, it looked as though the Magic would have to foul. Instead, Armstrong stole Wesley Person’s inbounds pass and laid it in to tie the game and ultimately force overtime with the score tied at 87. The first six points in the extra period would belong to the Magic.
Gerald Wilkins, another Orlando reserve and former Cavalier, got the scoring started in overtime before a Strong jumper and an Armstrong layup gave the Magic a 93-87 lead. Person and the Cavaliers, however, would make things interesting.
Person’s overtime three-pointer cut the lead to three late. He then stole the inbounds pass, giving Cleveland two shots to tie. Person and Shawn Kemp each missed three-pointers as Orlando left with a thrilling comeback victory.
Strong’s 20 points off the Orlando bench was a team-best. Armstrong filled up the box score with 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. Evans added 11 points while starters Rony Seikaly, Horace Grant, and Mark Price, another former Cav, all had 10 points.
Rookie Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Kemp each recorded double-doubles for Cleveland. Ilgauskas finished with game-highs of 21 points and 15 rebounds while Kemp added 18 points and 12 boards. Person tallied 17 points and made Cleveland’s only two three-pointers of the night.
With the loss to Orlando, the Cavaliers fell to 4-6 but bounced back with 10 straight wins. Cleveland went 47-35 before being ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers. The Magic finished 41-41 and narrowly missed the playoffs.
Against Cleveland, however, the Magic went 2-1 during the 1997-98 season with both wins coming in overtime. In the first of those, Orlando erased a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit. It came on this day a quarter-century ago.