There was something different about the night of Sunday, December 2, 2012. Something that is a rarity in modern day professional athletics. Sometimes there are not rational explanations for why unexpected events occur. The numbers do not always tell the entire story and you do not play a basketball game on paper. The only numbers that really mattered on this night were 113 and 103. The respective scores for Orlando and Los Angeles.
On that Sunday night in Los Angeles, Orlando shined brighter than the stars of Hollywood. Orlando ignored the fact that it was a 13-point underdog and playing on the opposite coast from home, having lost three straight at home. Orlando truly made all of us believe in Magic, at least for one night.
Two statistics stand out regarding the final period of the Magic's 113-103 win over the Lakers. The first is the field goal percentage, Orlando shooting a red-hot 66 percent from the field while the Lakers only managed to shoot 40 percent. Perhaps the difference was free throw shooting, Orlando shot nearly 90 percent from the free throw line in the fourth quarter while Los Angeles struggled with a 56 percent effort, much of those misses coming from Dwight Howard the superstar that spurned Orlando and failed to deliver in the clutch for Los Angeles.
Kobe Bryant usually gets his in most games and this one was no different as he scored 34 points while grabbing 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Even Dwight Howard had a respectable outing with 21 points and 15 boards. Although maybe what Howard did not do was crucial to the outcome.
Dwight Howard shot 9 for 21 from the free throw line for the game. More importantly he shot 7 for 14 from the free throw line in the fourth period while Orlando was implementing the hack-a-Howard strategy.
It was such an emotional win for Orlando that nearly everyone involved outside of Jacque Vaughn and Dwight Howard admitted it afterward. Jameer Nelson, J.J Redick, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo all acknowledged that it was a little deeper than just a basketball game. It was personal, not between Los Angeles and Orlando but between Orlando and Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard brushed off questions after the game regarding the emotional side of it, making the statement “It wasn’t emotional” when asked about it. It was obviously emotional enough for him to walk off of the court without shaking any of his former teammates' hands afterward or even seemingly acknowledging them before tip off.
One game does not define a season, at least most of the time. In Orlando’s case this may be the exception to the rule. Orlando was playing for more than a lot of Hollywood stars and pride. Orlando was playing for a community and a fan base. Orlando was playing for every superstar-less team in the league that have been burned by a big name.
The emotion was evident throughout the Magic family. Twitter was abuzz with comments from stunned, excited, proud and emotional Magic fans. Fans waking up other fans, as it was a late night on the East coast, just to share the news of the victory.
For the first night since game six of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals and those glory days with Howard in the middle, there was a buzz about the city. That maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all. Maybe the correct decisions are being made within the organization.
A lot of fans (most for the first time) were coming to the conclusion that indeed, Rob Hennigan made the correct move by acquiring Nikola Vucevic, who turned in his finest performance in a Magic uniform, and Afllalo instead of Andrew Bynum, who is still yet to play a game for Philadelphia. Some of the same fans that were once calling for Jacque Vaughn to be fired, or at least questioning turning the reigns over to such an inexperienced coach, were now praising his strategies and approach.
Most fans of the team gave Orlando no chance to win, especially on the road. Even the Vegas odds makers gave the Magic little chance of pulling the upset. There were a lot of stunned Lakers fans, but there were most likely a lot more stunned Magic fans.
Watching the game was surreal, as momentum seemed to be with Los Angeles until Orlando started repeatedly testing Dwight Howard at the free throw line. So many bad memories of Howard in a Magic uniform, shooting bricks from the line were replaced by the pure exhilaration of seeing the Magic expose his every weakness.
The Dwight-mare may have ended over the summer but the effects still linger. The wins and the dominance that Magic fans had become accustomed to have not been there as the franchise goes through a "transition." Replaced are the gaudy three point shooting efforts with hustle and teamwork.
For the fans, the Magic proved on the court what they had been saying publicly for years. The Orlando Magic are bigger than Dwight Howard. One player does not define a team.
Team work, heart and determination do account for something and in this instance, it accounted for 40 points in the final quarter in an emotional game for everyone involved.
Orlando sent Los Angeles a message on Sunday night with resonating effects. Orlando is more than a rent-a-star organization, they are a family. Orlando is a team that requires preparation. Orlando is a team ready to prove the doubters wrong and ready to bring redemption to a spurned fan base.