Ranking every Orlando Magic Playoff series
5. 1997 1st Round: Lost to Miami Heat, 3-2
The Orlando Magic were a team in turmoil their first season without Shaquille O’Neal. There was a literal hole to fill at center that nobody could possibly fill. The Magic quickly discovered how difficult things would be and how much easier O’Neal made everything.
It did not help that Hardaway also suffered the first of his series of ankle and foot injuries, appearing in only 59 games. It did not further help the player vote of no confidence that eventually drove Brian Hill out of a job.
Still, the Magic rallied under Richie Adubato to make the Playoffs and earn the 7-seed in the only Playoff series to date against the hated Miami Heat. The season saw Darrell Armstrong emerge as a key rotation player and energy booster.
This Magic team was not going to die.
But all indeed felt lost after Orlando lost Games 1 and 2 in Miami by 35 and 17 points respectively. This looked like a fourth straight postseason the Magic would bow out in a sweep.
As Adubato tells it after Game 2 and knowing center Rony Seikaly was done with a sprained ankle, he turned to Hardaway and asked him to deliver the team back to Miami and keep the season alive.
All Hardaway did from there was to deliver two of the greatest individual games in Magic history, scoring 42 and 41 points in Games 3 and 4 to help the Magic force a Game 5 and put all the pressure back on Miami. This was Hardaway at the peak of his powers. The Magic had lost O’Neal but still had a player with true star power.
That is what Hardaway put on display in these two games. And he did it again in Game 5 with 33 points. Orlando nearly pulled off the epic comeback. But the Heat held on for a 91-83 win to advance.
This will always be Hardaway’s magnum opus. And the defining series of a career cut too short.