Magic Masters is Orlando Magic Daily's attempt to recognize the best in Magic history. In this edition, we are trying to rank the best teams in Magic history. To see the full tournament bracket, visit the introduction page. Today, we conclude the semifinals. Be sure to read the analysis with Josh Cohen of OrlandoMagic.com of the two teams:
We are nearing the end of the season and nearing the end of what turned into, and probably should not have been, a year-long quest to figure out who is the best team in Magic history. The semifinals have become an exercise in picking your favorite era of Magic basketball -- the Shaq and Penny teams or the Dwight Howard teams. The winner of this matchup takes on the 1995-96 team.
And this is probably the matchup that Magic fans wonder about most. Which of Orlando's two Finals teams was better?
This is a always going to be itneresting because the teams were so similar in so many ways, yet different enough to raise some serious questions. The 1995 Magic had Penny Hardaway, the kind of dynamic scorer that the Dwight Howard-era teams missed but the 2009 team had matchup nightmares in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on the perimeter spreading the floor.
Those are the kind of intriguing matchups that we can only play out in our dreams... or a computer simulation borrowed from WhatIfSports.com. Like the last matchup, here is what happened in the simulated series:
Game 1 -- 1995 104, 2009 97
This debate certainly rages on in the back hallways of Magic fandom. Who is the best player in Magic history? With all due respect to Tracy McGrady and Anfernee Hardaway, Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal are the only ones that make this claim.
It seems like every summer, we ask that question in a constant re-appraisal of Howard's career. Last year it seemed like Howard had passed O'Neal in a lot of Magic fan's eyes, expecting a never-ending ascendance to all-time greatness. This year may have changed some opinions as Howard's play has dipped a bit -- even statistically -- and there was all that off-court mess.
But what we were left with this year was Shaquille O'Neal on TNT constantly trying to poke and prod Howard. He boastfully proclaimed that he would refer to Howard as Superman if he averaged 28 and 15 in a season (not likely to happen, but the point is taken) and brashly claimed Andrew Bynum was the best center in the league. That irked Howard, but it has not quite spurred him to that new level.
The question we always have is would Howard be able to hold his own against O'Neal. That seems about the only way to settle this.
Howard is going to be able to impact this series defensively, but offense might be a struggle. While Shaquille O'Neal matched Howard's 24 rebounds with 21 of his own, but outscored Howard 21-11 in the end. The Magic had no answer, and many would contend this is the difference, for Anfernee Hardaway, who scored 29 points. Horace Grant added 17 to counteract Rashard Lewis' 20 points.
1995 held control for the fourth quarter and coasted to the Game One victory.
Game 2 -- 1995 96, 2009 95
Donald Royal was a hard-nosed defender and reluctant shooter in his time with the Magic. He was the kind of player every team needs though to be great. He did the little things that every team needs done. Royal started over Dennis Scott because Royal was a better defender and allowed for a more balanced bench to come in and contribute starting with Scott.
Royal did not need the ball in his hands to be effective, which was a good thing with Nick Anderson, Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal on the floor already.
Sometimes though, you need Royal to deliver. And in Game Two, Royal did.
Howard had a chance to put the Magic up three with nine seconds left, but missed both free throws. So on the final possession, 2009 led by just one point. And so it came Royal's turn to shine.
Royal made a layup as time expired to give the 1995 Magic a 2-0 series lead. Royal had 14 points including four critical points in the final minute to give 1995 a great chance at holding home court. Dennis Scott had 25 off the bench as Hardaway struggled and O'Neal had only 21 points. Dwight Howard bounced back with 21 points and 19 rebounds. The 2009 team had five others score in double figures, led by Courtney Lee's 18 points.
Game 3 -- 1995 103, 2009 100
The 2009 Magic are quickly discovering that the 1995 Magic might have been deeper and more dynamic than the history books and memory would have us believe.
Nick Anderson played the hero in Game Three, and put the 2009 team on the verge of elimination. His 18-foot jumper with 1:44 left was the final field goal of the game and broke a 100-100 tie. Dwight Howard's mid-court heave at the buzzer was no good, securing a win for 1995.
What was surprising in the final box score was how much balance the 1995 team had and how they were able to get contributions from all over the roster. Jeff Turner scored 16 points in 13 minutes off the bench (always love Jeff Turner shoutouts) and O'Neal survived a poor shooting game to get 19 points and 11 rebounds.
It all helped 1995 survive getting only 12 points from Penny Hardaway and 43.5 percent shooting. Grabbing 18 offensive rebounds was critical for 1995 as they used their size to beat out 2009.
Jameer Nelson broke free against Hardaway for 29 points including 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Rashard Lewis continued a strong series with 20 points. Howard, though, once again could not get going. He had just 12 points to go with his 17 rebounds. And ultimately it is on him if/when this team comes up short.
Game 4 -- 1995 111, 2009 107
Much like the series in the other semifinal -- which ended with 2010 defeating 1996 in five games, although 1996 advanced by fan vote -- this semifinal ended in a bitterly disappointing sweep.
The 2009 defense never could figure out how to slow down the multi-faceted 1995 attack and that was enough to score some close victories in this series.
Shaquille O'Neal finished off the 2009 Magic with a flourish, scoring 35 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. All five of the 1995 starters scored in double figures as the team shot 48 percent from the floor. Howard was game with 18 points and 15 rebounds and Rashard Lewis completed a 25-point performance for a strong series.
But it was clearly not enough.
Nick Anderson tied the game at 103 with 1:07 left and Horace Grant provided a 106-103 tip in a few possessions later with a tip in off a blocked Hardaway fade-away jumper. 1995 just seemd to be too much.
So the question is, do you agree with these results? Who goes to the Magic Masters Finals?