2009 Orlando Magic needed first round struggles to truly find themselves

Rashard Lewis led the Orlando Magic in a vital Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Rashard Lewis led the Orlando Magic in a vital Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009 was a difficult and frustrating matchup. Those struggles were vital to their run.

The word came down the day between Games 5 and 6 of the Orlando Magic’s first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers. Dwight Howard’s technical foul in the third quarter of the game had been upgraded to a flagrant foul and a one-game suspension.

In a tight series that saw game-winning shots in three of its first four games, the Magic would have to go on the road and play a potential series-clinching game without its best player. The player who dominated the league and won Defensive Player of the Year would be out of the picture for this important game.

Orlando could have been in big trouble, facing down a Game 7 at the Amway Arena but still on shaky ground. The 76ers stole Game 1 on Andre Iguodala’s jumper with three seconds left, erasing a 20-point deficit in the process. The Sixers stole another one in Game 3 with Thaddeus Young’s putback.

If Hedo Turkoglu had not hit his buzzer-beater in Game 4, the Magic would have been in real trouble. Their Finals run never would have happened and they would have been a quirky regular-season team that could not stand up in the playoffs.

All that was working against the Magic. They did not look like the dominant team in that series. They controlled games but struggled to finish them. And now without Dwight Howard, a Game 7 seemed inevitable.

But what changed about Orlando that night in Philadelphia would carry the team through the remainder of the postseason.

Without their main star, they had to bond together and find themselves. Without Courtney Lee, out after Dwight Howard inadvertently elbowed him in the face coming down after a rebound in Game 5, the Magic needed new players to step up.

What came to define the Magic and what has made that 2009 team so popular are the characters who made up that rotation. It was the confidence and swagger everyone exuded around Howard that made that team so endearing. Everyone fit in perfectly.

They found their footing in Game 6 of this series. They made their mark and won the series with Howard not even in the arena. The series belonged to them and they would keep it going as they traveled to Boston a few days later.

As the Magic would do throughout the Playoffs, they faced down uncertainty and beat it back with everyone playing their role to perfection.

Game 6 of that first-round series was the release of a ton of pent-up frustration and where the Magic really discovered their character. The frustrations of the previous five games disappeared, they banded together and got help from unexpected areas.

The onslaught was quick in a 114-89 victory. J.J. Redick hit 3-pointers early and Rashard Lewis paced the team throughout. Marcin Gortat gave the Magic a defensive backstop to keep the Sixers out of the lane.

Before Philadelphia could even look up, Orlando was up and running away. The Sixers never really challenged.

This game was all about the Magic’s depth and supporting characters. The team needed this game to build up their confidence after struggling so much throughout that series.

Orlando would not have gotten to the Finals without the energy this game provided. Even Stan Van Gundy had to smile, a moment that stood out in the replay of Game 6 that took place Saturday on FOX Sports Florida (completing the week of replays for the series).


Howard put up strong numbers in the series with 24.0 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game in his five games in the series. But Hedo Turkoglu struggled to get himself going. Andre Miller torched Rafer Alston, getting off to hot starts.

The Magic looked generally lethargic. They struggled to break down the Sixers defense with their size — they threw two seven-footers in Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at Dwight Howard along with the veteran wily of Reggie Evans. Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala were both strong defenders who could switch and cover Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.

Orlando’s frustrations were real. And Howard’s great flaw — his inability to carry a team offensively and set the pace from the post — was on full display as the Magic struggled to get their distance.

It hurt Orlando made only 34.6 percent of its 3-point shots. This was not a series where the Magic look like how we remember them in 2009.

Outside of Turkoglu’s shot, this is a series the Magic seemingly want to forget. Turkoglu averaged only 11.8 points per game for the series and shot 36.5 percent from the floor. He got ejected from Game 6 with the game already decided.

But it still served an important purpose. The Magic had to band together under the playoff pressure and find a way to squeeze out a win. It took the entire team to get the win.

Courtney Lee was key in Game 2 and he slowly gained confidence as someone who could play defense and hit shots. That was something the team needed throughout the Playoffs when he returned during the second-round series with the Boston Celtics (those replays begin Tuesday on FOX Sports Florida).

J.J. Redick stepped up in his stead. He scored 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc in that clinching Game 6. After muddling through the first three years of his career, Redick was a complete surprise on this stage. But he stayed ready and delivered.

So too did Marcin Gortat, scoring 11 points and grabbing 15 rebounds with four steals. Throughout the series, he filled in with his defense when Dwight Howard got into foul trouble. Gortat really proved his value as Howard and the Magic struggled throughout the series.

This was all a preview of what the Magic would need later on in the Playoffs.

They would need Redick to start and hold his own against the Celtics — that series is really where Redick entrenched himself in the rotation for the rest of his career. They would need Mickael Pietrus‘ shooting and defense. They would need Gortat to defend and maintain the Magic’s elite defense.

Game 6 was about all those players stepping up when they needed to. They also got one of Lewis’ best games too. He did not even take a 3-pointer, but he led the Magic with 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He had them believing they could win and advance without Howard. That is all they needed.

When Howard returned for Game 1 of the next round, the Magic were riding a wave of confidence. They all had a belief in each other that stemmed from this game and this moment.

Next. Penny Hardaway still cool and confident. dark

As rough and difficult the first-round series against the 76ers was, it proved important for the team’s development. Without that initial struggle, the Magic may not have had the confidence and the ability to advance to the Finals a few weeks later.