It has been two years since Orlando made its run to the NBA Finals. We all think fondly on that year as something special and one of the most surprising and exciting runs in team history. It raised the bar for the Magic over the last two years and raised expectations to an unprecedented level.
While the Magic lost to the Lakers in five games, there is hardly any tarnish on that year or the Finals performance. Dwight Howard has not gained Nick Anderson-like status for his missed free throws and Jameer Nelson, while a goat at the time, has not quite worn his porous defense on Derek Fisher in Game Four as an albatross around his neck — although plenty of people will point out what a mistake it was for the Magic to play him like they did (another debate, for another day).
Courtney Lee has received the same nostalgic adoration. Many fans lamented his trade to New Jersey for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson and it is still a day Lee describes as a “bad day.”
A day that may not rank as bad as that June day when the Magic took a gamble in acquiring Carter was the June night in Los Angeles when the Magic announced their arrival to the Finals.
Hedo Turkoglu’s block on Kobe Bryant in the waning seconds (0.7 in fact) set up an incredible lob to the rookie guard from Western Kentucky. Lee grabbed the pass and seemed set for a game-winning alley-oop layup to even up the series at 1-1, perhaps altering the course of Magic and NBA history. Pau Gasol may have goaltended the shot by reaching through the cylinder to try and block the shot (the NBA admitted as much), but the final result was a missed basket and overtime in Game Two.
From there, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol took over and the inexperienced Magic succumbed to the 2-0 deficit.
The miss though is something Lee continues to think about even as he trains for the 2012 season with Houston, his third team in three years, at Rollins College (he still lives in Winter Park). The young player has gone through a lot of learning experiences since the Finals and is on his contract year, but that one moment might haunt him more than any other in his career.
“I think about a hundred scenarios every day when I wake up,” Lee told David Baumann of BrightHouse Sports Network. “Today I was thinking about if we would have won one of those games in L.A. to begin with — would the series have been different? Because we came home and won Game 3.
“That was something that I had to get ove. It happens and you either let it crush you or you let it motivate you and I’m one of those guys — I let it motivate.”
Lee gave credit to Gasol’s defense and Turkoglu’s lob but admitted it was a tough layup. However it was one he said he would make nine out of 10 times. Unfortunately, that one time happened at the NBA Finals for the Magic.
Who knows though if the Magic would have won that series had they tied it up in Los Angeles. Orlando came home to an emotional crowd and held on for the Game Three victory. And the Magic still had the chance to close out Game Four at home. Not to mention the Lakers closed out the Magic on the Amway Arena floor.
Lee has been a solid option for New Jersey and Houston since leaving Orlando, averaging 10.2 points per game and shooting a 49.2 percent effective field goal percentage. Those numbers were virtually the same as he put up in Orlando when his usage rate was much lower (which accounts for his higher scoring average and lower eFG%). Lee should find someone to sign with once his contract expires at the end of the year.
But he, and Magic fans, should always be asking “What if?” when it comes to Game Two.
Photo via DayLife.com.