Top 5 what-if’s in Orlando Magic history
What If Courtney Lee did not miss the 2009 Finals Game 2 buzzer-beater?
Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals was a classic.
The Los Angeles Lakers had a 1-0 series lead and both teams went back and forth until regulation came down to its closing seconds. In a tied contest, Hedo Turkoglu blocked Kobe Bryant on a would-be game-winning shot before calling a time-out with 0.6 seconds remaining.
From the half-court sideline, Hedo Turkoglu slapped the ball to inbound, Courtney Lee dashed from the top of the key past a well-placed Rashard Lewis screen and received a great pass from Turkoglu for an open lay-up.
The play design worked to perfection. But the ball did not go in (Pau Gasol goaltends aside). Instead, it would bounce off the glass, over the rim, and into the hands of a soaring Dwight Howard as the buzzer sounded, sending Game 2 to overtime in Los Angeles.
In overtime, the Magic would fall to the Lakers 101-96 and take a 2-0 deficit into Game 3. While the Magic would go on to win their first-ever Finals game at home in Game 3, they would ultimately lose the series 4-1.
The Magic would spend the next couple of seasons attempting to reshuffle the deck before having an ugly breakup with Howard in 2012. The former Magic center made a move that was all too familiar to Magic fans and was off to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers.
The franchise has been fighting its way back to relevance ever since.
What could have gone differently?
What if Courtney Lee’s Game 2 buzzer-beater was good? What if Orlando’s first-ever Finals win came in Game 2 on one they stole in Los Angeles?
In hindsight, the Magic’s chance to win the series felt like they plummeted after Game 2.
According to LandOfBasketball.com, teams down 0-2 in an NBA playoff series win less than 10 percent of the time, a statistic that makes the Game 2 loss for Orlando far more frustrating.
It is often forgotten the 2009 Magic were at the time the best 3-point shooting team in NBA history and had the most dominant inside force in modern basketball. They did not make it to the Finals by accident. They just had to go against one of the best ever to do it when they got there.
Had the Magic stolen Game 2 in Los Angeles and gone back to Orlando with the series tied 1-1, the Central Florida home crowd would have been electric. If you can imagine there was a road for the Magic to go up 2-1, and there was certainly a path to a Finals victory from there.
Even if the Magic had not won the series, had it been more competitive, Orlando probably does not let key pieces from their playoff run like Rafer Alston, Hedo Turkoglu or Courtney Lee move on in the fashion they did.
Or maybe they still do but find better pieces to surround Dwight with on another title run. Maybe Howard handles the following seasons differently and never leaves at all.
The likeliest scenario here is the Orlando Magic probably still lose the 2009 Finals to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Even if Orlando went up 2-1, Bryant was a man-possessed on that run and it never felt like he was not the best player in the series.
The Magic even down 2-0 had their chance to tie the series. But they gave up a 3-pointer to Derek Fisher in the dying seconds (after a pair of missed free throws from Dwight Howard) and then another 3-pointer in overtime from Fisher to cement a 3-1 deficit.
There were plenty of turning points throughout that series that could have drastically changed Magic history.
Where it gets interesting is considering how management may have changed some of the moves they made after the Finals loss. And while it certainly would have, the result of this timeline probably is not much different than our own.
The reality is the 2009 Magic team was ahead of its time in some ways but existed at a bad point in history in others. It could have had a better shot to win a title in some seasons and there are others it would not have come close to making the Eastern Conference Finals (such as if Kevin Garnett were healthy for that seven-game second-round series against the Boston Celtics).
Even if it did not amount to winning the first title in franchise history, it is fair to say winning another Finals game probably would have helped prevent Dwight Howard’s ugly departure a few years later.
If the Magic lose the series in six or seven games instead of five, they probably retain many of the pieces they let go and run things back with the same or a similar team. With that added level of trust and camaraderie from a former Finals team, things probably do not break down as badly as they did between Howard and the organization.
Ultimately the Magic are still probably without a championship if Courtney Lee makes the Game 2 buzzer-beater in 2009 – but how Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy depart, as well as being a bottom-feeding team for the 10 years that would follow, likely play out in a much more positive way for the Magic than they did in our reality.