The Orlando Magic will win their 1,000th regular-season game in franchise history sometime after the first of the year. Counting the NBA playoffs, they’ve already eclipsed that milestone.
With this being their 25th season, and with the anniversary of one their most momentous victories a matter of days away, now is as good of a time as any to raise the question of which of those many games stand out from the rest and have stood the test of time.
Note that this is a list of games with largely historical impact, not necessarily ones noteworthy for a particular play or individual feats.
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Nick Anderson’s steal of Michael Jordan which led to a game-winning basket was incredibly dramatic, but that was only Game 1 of a series which came close to going the distance. While Tracy McGrady holds the Magic single-game record for points with 62, it took place in an inconsequential late-season contest while they were on their way to finishing the season with 61 losses.
Keeping that in mind, here is what constitutes that 1 percent:
10. Magic 117, Pistons 103 April 8, 1994 at Orlando
After the Magic selected Shaquille O’Neal with the top pick in the 1992 draft, it was not a matter of if they would make the playoffs for the first time but when. That goal was officially attained in this game, with Shaq going off for 40 points and 16 rebounds. As remarkable as the Magic’s transformation was that, in the same span of less than five years, the Pistons went from a juggernaut in the midst of back-to-back championship runs to a ragtag unit which tied for the second-worst record in the league that season. The player whom the Pistons drafted after finishing so poorly: Grant Hill.
9. Magic 108, Lakers 104 June 9, 2009 at Orlando
The Magic had an 0-6 record in NBA Finals competition, and after a devastating Game 2 overtime loss in Los Angeles, the fear was that they could be headed for a repeat of the sweep inflicted upon them in 1995 by the Houston Rockets. Not to worry. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Rafer Alston all had at least 20 points, while both Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus chipped in with 18. That was enough to withstand 31 points from Kobe Bryant and 23 from Pau Gasol. The Magic had a chance to square the series two nights later but were again edged in overtime.
8. Magic 110, Bulls 109 Dec. 20, 1989 at Orlando
In case you forgot, Otis Smith’s ties to the Magic dated long before he became their general manager in 2006. He was part of that very first team, and using what Smith called a “bunny-hop move” that looked like it was borrowed from Jordan, he scored with 2.3 seconds to go to defeat a team that was in its first season with Phil Jackson as its coach. Jordan scored 52 points in a losing cause as the Magic capped a series of remarkable victories during their first seven weeks of play. Less than two months later, Jordan and the Bulls fell to the Magic in Orlando once more.
7. Magic 118, Knicks 110 Nov. 6, 1989 at Orlando
The buzz after beating the Pistons to begin the preseason had subsided, and a loss to the lowly New Jersey Nets in the Magic’s regular-season debut made people wonder how long it might take before the expansion team prevailed in a game which counted. The wait barely lasted 48 hours. Shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, the Magic placed seven players in double figures, headed by Reggie Theus with 24 points. Patrick Ewing had 29 points to pace the Knicks, who were coming off their first 50-win season since capturing what remains their last NBA title in 1973.
6. Magic 96, Lakers 94 Feb. 22, 1998 at Orlando
For sheer cathartic joy, this victory still might be the sweetest of them all. The Magic had gone from a national television staple to a team whose appearances were limited to special occasions, such as the return of O’Neal to Orlando for the first time as a visiting player. (He had missed the Magic’s rout of the Lakers the previous year with an injury.) Anderson was playing as well as he did at any point during his 10-year Magic career, and he took tremendous delight in knocking down the game-winning 3-point shot in the closing seconds before a raucous sellout crowd.
5. Magic 108, Lakers 103 Dec. 10, 1989 at Orlando
Magic was a name synonymous with the reigning MVP, even after Orlando had raised eyebrows by going 7-7 in November. The Lakers had gone to the Finals seven of the previous eight years and were expected to return the upstart team back to reality. But Johnson had an awful shooting night (3 of 16) and was guilty of six turnovers while being outplayed by a guard who followed him at Michigan State, Sam Vincent. The Magic trailed by 12 points entering the fourth quarter before outscoring the Lakers 35-18. Vincent had 21 points and 10 assists, while Terry Catledge finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
4. Magic 108, Bulls 102 May 18, 1995 at Chicago
Back when they were young and bold, the Magic were known more for their scoring than their defense. One enormous exception came in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, when they held the Bulls scoreless over the final 3:24. The Magic scored the game’s last 14 points to the astonishment of a crowd which saw Horace Grant, who had left Chicago for Orlando as a free agent the previous summer, hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates in triumph after the final horn. This marked the first time the Bulls were eliminated in a series with Jordan since the 1989 conference finals against the Pistons.
3. Magic 101, Celtics 82 May 17, 2009 at Boston
Even with Kevin Garnett missing the entire playoffs because of an injury to his right knee, the smart money was on the Celtics to come out like the defending NBA champions in Game 7 on their home floor. Instead, the Magic seized control in the first quarter and turned the game into a runaway over the final 12 minutes. Turkoglu scored 25 points and handed out 12 assists — if you remember, the Magic had lost Jameer Nelson in early February with a torn right labrum. The victory was all the more noteworthy because the Celtics had gone 32-0 in their storied history when leading a seven-game series 3-2.
2. Magic 103, Cavaliers 90 May 30, 2009 at Orlando
After eliminating the Celtics, the Magic weren’t given much of a chance against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. But the Magic never trailed in the series and never trailed in the deciding game. Howard was utterly dominant with 40 points and 14 rebounds, while Pietrus came off the bench to head their near-constant barrage of 3-pointers. James looked physically and emotionally drained as he was held to 25 points after averaging more than 41 points through the previous five games. The Magic were headed to the Finals after a 14-year absence. Little more than a year later, James headed from Cleveland to Miami.
1. Magic 105, Pacers 81 June 4, 1995 at Orlando
You never forget your first time. And the Magic gave their fans something worth remembering while earning a spot in the Finals in the franchise’s sixth year of existence. Although the home team won every game in the series, the ease with which the Magic disposed of the Pacers was startling, especially after getting drubbed in Game 6 two nights earlier at Indiana. Dennis Scott accounted for five of their 13 successful 3-pointers, while Reggie Miller managed only 12 points in 38 minutes for the Pacers. Coach Brian Hill got the same type of victory ride that Grant received two weeks earlier in Chicago.