Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Andrew Nicholson - FIBA Americas Canada Preview


For your casual basketball viewer, the season ends in mid-June and doesn't start up again until October. I'll kindly disagree with that mentality. You have the NBA Draft, then July is all about Summer League. August is really truly the only typically 'quiet' time (and Dwight has crushed that theory the past two offseasons), and even then international friendlies take over whether it's in preparation for the Olympics, the FIBA World Championships (now referred to as the 'World Cup'...ugh), EuroBasket, and the FIBA Americas Championship. August 30th we're back on the 2-year cycle of the FIBA Americas tournament hosted in Venezuela this campaign, and on the 2-year cycle of EuroBasket hosted in Slovenia beginning September 4th. The end goal of participating in EuroBasket and the FIBA Americas is to qualify into the Olympics and FIBA World Cup. However, there's tremendous prestige in winning these 'qualifying' tournaments. Don't tell that to USA basketball who very rarely participates in the FIBA Americas Championship simply because they typically dominate and win gold at the Olympics and FIBA World Cup and have the options to elect not to send a team to the FIBA Americas tourney.

The top 6 finishers of the now expanded 24-team EuroBasket four-group format punch a ticket for Spain in next year's FIBA World Cup. If Spain finishes in the top 6 (Spoiler Alert: They will), then the team that finishes 7th also gets an automatic invitation without having to endure a crummy qualifying campaign to get into the tourney. The top 4 finishers in the 10-squad FIBA Americas two-group competition earn automatic berths for next year. Remember, the U.S. already has their invite by virtue of winning the London Olympics. Expanding from 16 to twenty-four teams for the first time ever at EuroBasket may water down the quality in the first round, but it's still known as a more entertaining tournament than the Olympics or the FIBA World's. The FIBA Americas tourney is shorter and less grueling on its competitors. But the atmosphere and passion lacks in comparison to the other tournaments discussed. Still, it's fun when your country competes or your player(s) is out there. 

So for this Magic men international preview let's check in on our favorite Canadian baller, Andrew Nicholson. 


Keep in mind, Andrew Nicholson has played organized basketball for about 5 years. That's it. The 23-year-old has earned the honor to play for his country on the senior level for the first time ever. It's the sneak peak at a future that will possibly have Canada being a global basketball power rapidly soon. A new crop of talent who are all descendants of Steve Nash. Nash on his own helped guide Team Canada to its most recent medals in all major competition - A FIBA Americas Silver in 1999, and a FIBA Americas Bronze in 2001. Our neighbors up north haven't won anything since and Nash is now in a General Manager position. So this tournament that tips off August 30th may be a litmus test for how well Head Coach can guide raw talent.

Side note: I can now claim to have driven through Mississauga, Ontario. A lot of wineries. Actually, a ridiculous amount.

I think more than anything, we want to see Andrew Nicholson's defensive paint presence grow. How? Well Uncle 'Drew can start by improving his rebounding...vastly

So how has Nicholson done starting along side of Cavs big man Tristan Thompson in the Canadian frontcourt? Quite well actually. Better than his mic work. A head nod to Evan Dunlap over at Orlando Pinstripe Post for breaking down Andrew's performance in the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup - final warm-up competition held in San Juan, Puerto Rico where Canada lost all 4 games - before the real deal tips off this Friday. His team played like crap, but Andrew posted some impressive offensive numbers. You can scour YouTube for footage of some of the exhibitions, but I'll spare you the trouble. 

Nicholson in a bit over 23 minutes per contests averaged 15.0 ppg and 2.5 rpg (Yuck) on 54.8 FG% and a pleasant 6-of-7 from 3-point range. Remember, the FIBA 3-point line is almost 2 feet closer to the rim than the NBA version. Still - especially against Argentina where he made all 3 long-ball attempts including one with a man in his face that beat the halftime buzzer - Nicholson has added legitimate 3-point shooting to his blossoming offensive arsenal. Maybe he was inspired by Kelly Olynyk abusing him in Summer League from inside and outside. Also, it's 40-minute matches in international play and not forty-eight. That plays a role in lower statistics. The fifteen-point average placed Nicholson in 4th, just ahead of Tristan Thompson and just behind Luis Scola, J.J. Barea, and Carlos Arroyo. Not bad company. As far as rebounds, teammate Thompson finished in a tie with Argentina's Luis Scola for the Cup rebounding lead averaging 7.5 boards per game. And yet, Nicholson got out-muscled on the glass and proved ineffective at swatting or stealing the ball. His footwork has improved since July slightly, though he looks quicker against slower opposition than on the NBA level. 
The Tuto Cup is a large upgrade in performance from his poor showing in two contests against Jamaica earlier in August. Although in one of those Jamaican encounters, Andrew almost got into a scuffle with Samardo Samuels. Nicholson is beginning to show more of a mean streak as he won't tolerate being pushed around by any league veterans without a fight. If only he exhumed that attitude while defending or banging in the paint.

For Nicholson's sake, I hope Triano plays more man defense instead of requiring Andrew to constantly switch and risk coming too early or late on the help defense. That leads to extra mistakes and an increase in unnecessary fouls for a somewhat inexperienced side that is already in a challenging situation. For Canada to finish in the top 4, Nicholson must lead his nation in scoring. Andrew can do it. His expanded 3-point game kept Luis Scola on his toes on August 23rd and Andrew has good chemistry with Thompson on defensive switches. It's all about putting it all together on the grand stage.  



CANADA'S CHANCES AT AN AUTOMATIC 2014 FIBA WORLD CUP INVITE:

Thanks to some weakened opposition, definitely not hopeless. Although, Josh Cohen on OrlandoMagic.com thinks Canada has a 50% chance at nabbing a top 4 spot for Spain next year. That sounds fair to me though I believe Nicholson and company will have to overachieve a bit. Having to play every Group A match either in the morning or in the early afternoon won't help initially. They had to cut veteran leader Carl English due to injury, and don't have the services of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, and Robert Sacre. Bummer. Canada has to rely on Nicholson, Thompson, Miami's Joel Anthony, the Spurs' Cory Joseph, and Baylor's Brady Heslip to find success. 

The top four from the group will advance. That means only one team gets eliminated after the first round robin. So who of the 5 teams above are getting knocked out? I know the 2011 silver medalists and Marcelinho Huertas-led Brazil (no Barbosa, Varejao, Splitter, or Nene) and the Puerto Ricans (captained by Carlos 'Chuck' Arroyo) are safe. My money is on Uruguay. If not them, then Jamaica who won't have Roy Hibbert. Godspeed, Samardo Samuels. I've got Canada finishing 3rd in the group with a 2-2 record. That prediction turns to 1-2 once Jamaica or Uruguay gets knocked out and we get into the second round. 

If Canada advances from Round 1 - fire Jay Triano if they don't - they take on the 4 teams that progressed out of much stronger Group B in a second round robin: Mexico (with the dominating Gustavo Ayon), the 2011 bronze medalists and Franciso Garcia-led Dominican Republic (no Al Horford), hosts Venezuela (a lot of pressure the naturalized Donta Smith with Greivis Vasquez out due to his ankle injury), Paraguay, and defending FIBA Americas champs and the Luis Scola-led Argentinians (no Ginobili, Delfino, Prigioni, or Nocioni). I think Paraguay will be the squad knocked out of Group B. 


So that leaves 8 teams, all play 4 games in 4 consecutive days in a third round robin stage between September 5th-8th. My predictions on who those 4 teams will be in order of most points: Puerto Rico (they have an assistant coach names Bob Saget, they'll finally live up to expectations), Argentina, Brazil...and Canada. I believe the Dominican Republic and Mexico will just miss out on the knockout stage. 

Those who survive to reach the Semifinals on September 10th can already rest easy (well not really, they're competing still for hardware), they'll have earned that FIBA World Cup spot. It's all about medals and the trophy from there. I think Canada will lose in the semifinal to Puerto Rico and then Puerto Rico will knock off Brazil in the title game. The fun thing about prognosticating? Being wrong leads to plenty of surprises. I won't be shocked if I'm wrong because Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea are bound to fail to lead their nation to the trophy...again. However, Puerto Rico did lift the Tuto Marchand Cup (mind you on their own court) and that's immense progress. The Final is Wednesday September 11th.

So again, I have Canada finishing 4th - good enough for that FIBA World Cup ticket but just short of the podium. Not half bad for a nation becoming respectable again in basketball. On the brighter side, Nicholson plays well in a #7 jersey. It seems like some of ex-Magic man J.J. Redick's 3-point shooting has rubbed off on Andrew and we all wish him a confidence-boosting showing in Caracas. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

McGrady's 4-Year Magic Legacy & Infamous Playoff Quotes


After saluting a sure Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson, the biggest Magic killer in Orlando franchise history, news broke Monday of former Magic man Tracy McGrady officially retiring from the NBA. Maybe Tracy can finish dead last in China again. Couldn’t quite get that championship in San Antonio. Never could get out of the first round of the playoffs until this summer, riding his Spurs teammates. His Hall of Fame candidacy has been left in limbo for the time being. 5 years is a long way out and who knows how reporters will view McGrady then. We're already looking at a split down the middle. Some fans and journalists saying 'yes' to granting T-MAC a Hall of Fame ticket, and other writers who say hell no

All of this doubt and - at best - mediocrity wasn’t associated with T-MAC a decade ago. From 2000 to 2004 Tracy was a member of the Magic. During that time he was arguably better than Kobe Bryant who was Michael Jordan's 'successor'. The laughable folklore goes that if Tracy was with Shaq in Los Angeles that the Lakers win championships from 2000 to 2010. Not a measly 3-peat. Why? Because Tracy was a such a laid back guy in comparison to Kobe that McGrady never would have dared to piss O’Neal off into seeking a new team.

Therein lied the problem. Instead of being viewed as a great athlete with immense talent and having the drive and work ethic to become a superstar like Jordan or Bryant, perception has it that Tracy relied on nothing but natural ability and is viewed like Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and even cousin Vince. That injuries racked up because Tracy didn’t do the necessary workouts. McGrady left you longing for more. 30-point games should have been 40-pointers. Instead of forty points, he could've gone for 50. Even when Tracy abused Carmelo, or any other team along his 4-year journey, the Magic could still lose because the supporting cast was questionable at best. But man did Tracy have a ridiculous amount of highlight reel moments. Adopting the self-alley oop and making it his baby will keep you in basketball fans' brains forever. 


The summer of 2000 was all about Grant Hill...then the 'what if' with Tim Duncan...then John Gabriel possibly winning back-to-back Executive of the Year awards...and then McGrady. I LOVE reading how mad fans rightfully were hating on Gabriel. Tracy was the boy from Auburndale, he was happy to be home. Little did we know what lay ahead. 7 years of Hill 'will he or won't he play' frustration and McGrady christening his 4th professional season by going from a 15-point scorer to averaging 26.8 points per contest that season. It may not have happened had G-Hill not missed 78 regular season contests that '00-'01 season. 

2001 Playoffs: 4 games, 33.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.3 bpg

Jesus Christ what a stat line. Too bad the Bucks were better than a one-man show. I was never a fan of McGrady's trash talking. Click to the 4-minute mark of that link and you see T-MAC saying sweet-nothings into Glenn Robinson's ear. But that's how Tracy gained his swagger. Same as cousin Vince. 

But Milwaukee, under George Karl's leadership, wasn't afraid of McGrady, and proved it:
"I don't think he's doing anything," Bucks forward Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson said when asked why McGrady is bothering him on both ends of the court. "We're ahead. We're up 2-1 in the series."
Added guard Sam Cassell: "Tracy has played well, but it's not like he is shooting out the lights. He's having to work. He's getting 30-something a game, but he's shooting 40-something percent."
McGrady found a way to always eat his words in the playoffs. Always. It's quite amazing really:
"It's do-or-die again, but we're still very much alive," said Magic star Tracy McGrady. "I think that talk of a sweep was a little too much. We're going back to Milwaukee."
Whoops
McGrady never did take charge of the game like the Magic hoped he would.
"I was really tired. I don't know why, but I came to the sidelines after the first timeout and my legs felt shot," he said. "I was like I was running in cement. It knew it was going to be a long night for me, but I tried to find some way to get it going."
Maybe he would mature in his second Magic season...


2001-2002 was all about how a potentially studly Tracy could coexist with a supposedly healthy Grant Hill. G-Hill more than tripled his game totals from the previous season... to 14. Progress. McGrady's best game of the '01-'02 season came on March 19th against the Bucks (48 points, 12 boards, 9 assists that ended a 10-game slide to Milwaukee...yeah, that existed) in a season that included numerous 30-point and quite a few 40-pointers. The ascension to super-stardom was set in place. Here's something awesome, fans were dialing up to NBA.com and voting for T-MAC to be MVP that season. Also hot on T-MAC's heels? The Adidas shoe contract and advertising rise

Spoiler: Magic Win!

2002 Playoffs: 4 games, 30.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.8 bpg, 0.5 spg

McGrady again shot himself in the foot with the media. FALSE 'GUARANTEE' ALERT:
In addition to McGrady's "guarantee" of a victory tonight, he also was mildly critical of his teammates, saying that Hornets star Baron Davis was overshadowing him in this series because he had a better, more consistent supporting cast.
Although McGrady's statements are probably true, Rivers still cringed at what he heard, especially considering the timing.
"Those weren't the best comments I could have heard. I don't know what he meant by some of them, but we'll just let it rest," Rivers said. "If he wasn't a good guy, a good team guy, then maybe I'd be concerned. But I just don't think his comments came out the way he meant them. And our guys know that."

Damn you, skinnier Baron Davis. This is where McGrady began earning a reputation of not being able to 'up' himself in crunch time of the playoffs. Tracy has hit some game-winners before in the regular season, but T-MAC found ways to disappear late in postseason contests without being double-teamed. Thus, depending on numerous supporting men to knock down some clutch buckets. This is where Penny Hardaway gets the upper leg (no pun intended) in my book when comparing the two on the court. 

Let the McGrady doubts creep in. Again, Tracy's body apparently failed him when he needed to rely on it the most:
"I played in a hell of a lot of pain tonight," he said. "I could feel it tighten on me. The doctor came in, did a little work on my back and I go, `I'll go out [to the floor] and I'll be fine.' "
Let's not forget though, McGrady was 23 years old at this point. Still room to grow.


McGrady's legendary 2002-2003 season (JACQUE VAUGHN ALERT) almost didn't happen. Had best friend Mike Miller (injury-riddled even then) not been traded on February 19, 2003 (A great deal in every aspect because Gooden and Giricek helped push Orlando into the postseason), Tracy wouldn't have gone into King Kong mode. What do I mean? McGrady was pissed. He was furious that the Gator got traded. Orlando had a record of 26-29 and just had completed a phenomenal comeback victory against New Orleans the night before. 2 days after Miller gets dealt, out of PURE SPITE, McGrady drops 52 points on the Bulls in 33 minutes in an Orlando win. He dedicated that game to Miller ("This one's for Mike!"). One hit wonder, right? Not quite. 2 nights later in New Jersey McGrady drops a 46-point TRIPLE-DOUBLE! All because McGrady lost his friend. 

Tracy would carry that fury-fueled spark all the way into the first round against the Pistons. And then he finally sputtered with the Magic up 3-1 and Doc Rivers not finding anyway to prove Tayshaun Prince's defense ineffective. Orlando let an anorexic tree swing the balance of momentum. Detroit rattles off 3 straight and the aftershock effects would continue into the next season. I've vented my frustration with David Stern's money grab before. Grant Hill played 29 games that campaign, but still had not dressed for a playoff game with Orlando. He wouldn't get that opportunity until 2007 - long after McGrady was gone - Hill's final summer in O-Town. Again, it sucks for Tracy. Although, I should have seen the foreshadowing of future disaster coming when I saw McGrady and Shawn Kemp laughing on the bench as Orlando was being eliminated in Detroit. 

David Whitley had an intriguing take on the choke fest:
A lot of people think Tracy McGrady had to, even though he didn't really say anything. He's been roasted from coast to coast for guaranteeing the Magic would advance, then vanishing the final two games.
"I don't know what the deal was on that," McGrady said Monday.
The deal was after Game 4 he said, "For me, a guy who has never experienced playing in the second round, this is great. Being bounced out of the first round for three consecutive years left a bad taste in my mouth."
It was surrounded by qualifiers like, "The series is not over. Detroit is dangerous. We're taking nothing for granted. I drive a Ford."
No matter. The comment was seized upon as the 2003 equivalent of Joe Namath guaranteeing the Jets would take the Super Bowl, only to have the Colts win 67-0.
2003 Playoffs: 7 games, 31.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.9 bpg

That postseason line was just a shade under McGrady's 32.1 ppg, 6.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.8 bpg ridiculous regular season stat line. The offseason pressure was officially on. For McGrady. For Rivers. For Gabriel. It would prove too much to overcome and all 3 men buckled. Some sooner than others. 

Seriously guys, T-MAC was better than Kobe during those 4 years in Orlando. The tables turned the second McGrady put on a Rockets jersey.



STAT CHECK, PER 36 MINUTES EDITION! 

2001 McGrady - 45.7 FG%, 24.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.4 bpg, 1.4 spg
2001 Bryant     - 46.4 FG%, 25.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.5 spg

2002 McGrady - 45.1 FG%, 24.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.9 apg, 0.9 bpg, 1.5 spg
2002 Bryant     - 46.9 FG%, 23.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.4 spg

2003 McGrady - 45.7 FG%, 29.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 0.7 bpg, 1.5 spg (Again, should've been MVP)
2003 Bryant     - 45.1 FG%, 26.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.7 bpg, 1.9 spg

2004 McGrady - 41.7 FG%, 25.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.0 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.3 spg
2004 Bryant     - 43.8 FG%, 22.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.6 spg

Even in the 'lost' 2003-2004 season, an injured (see the subpar shooting percentage), emotionally scarred McGrady in 67 games of action was still better than Kobe. 

Speaking of 2004, here's literally one of maybe 3 bright spots that season: 


And another good Christmas spirit moment below.


Any spite I hold for T-MAC is as an entire result of what occurred in the '03-'04 disaster of a season. Granted I also blame it on John Gabriel signing Juwan Howard (DON'T GIVE HIM THE PEN, JOHN! DON'T DO IT!), and also the Magic picking the worse jersey ever to celebrate 15 years of existence. An already mentally messed up Gooden (Blame the J-Ho signing) LIKED those atrocities. Oh yeah, and Reece Gaines being on the roster wasn't a plus either. This came literally months after a campaign performance that I believed garnered McGrady the MVP award. It's an impressively unique freefall that was capped off by the fact that Grant Hill didn't suit up for a single ball game. 

McGrady's lack of extra work in the offseason finally caught up to him after that Pistons series loss. Michael Doleac would never lie. Johnny Davis has some damning quotes in that Grantland piece. Tracy wasn't in pristine shape and then the lower back pain came as a result of playing catch-up. 


Your viewpoint of McGrady is in direct correlation to how one analyzed John Weisbrod's time as General Manager. I supported the man for what he stood for - a bulldozer - most dissed him. Orlando wins the first game of the '03-'04 season. Then lost 10 games. Fire Doc Rivers. Keep losing, and losing, and losing. Gabriel gets let go in March 2004, in comes Weisbrod the 'hockey guy' with Tracy's free agency being 16 months away. Instantly he and McGrady clash. Tracy quits the rest of the season less than 2 weeks after John gets hired. All hell breaks loose for the next few months with mudslinging, mind games, and trade rumors galore until JW finally pulls the trigger and deals 'Me-Mac' to Houston on June 29th for pieces that included the trio of Francis-Mobley-Cato. Bottom line: Tracy didn't want to be in a rebuild situation, hated his coaches, and didn't want to wait to see if Emeka Okafor or Dwight Howard would be decent. I think McGrady secretly knew his body was rapidly falling apart and he wanted to go to a 'better' situation where he could have an improved supporting cast and a chance at winning playoff series. 

Tracy's 28.0 points per contest 'won' him his 2nd consecutive scoring title in '03-'04, and also the final of his career. Scary situation (that gives me Penny flashbacks), but T-MAC truly began declining at the age of 25. His back and his legs deteriorated and he just never could overcome those problems in the 3 postseason he experienced with Orlando. In Houston it was same story new address and colors. Tracy was cursed with Yao Ming's injury problems which were almost as burdening as the G-Hill saga. Almost. Still though, Tracy had enough talent and enough coaches through his career that ONE TIME he should have led a roster to the second round. JUST ONCE. I feel bad about Tracy never amounting to what he should've been. Where you won't find me giving sympathy is the fact that McGrady burned an awful lot of bridges throughout his career. You don't get in the Hall of Fame that way. 

I will say that McGrady's presser with the Rockets in '04 has a lot of similarities to Dwight's recent one:
Later, McGrady followed up and predicted, "We're going to get it done, trust me."
McGrady's confidence remains consistent. He just endured the worst season he's had since he discovered his stardom, but he now seems unburdened. McGrady left the Magic mentally and physically drained. He left questioning management and with management questioning him. He left hearing that he was lazy, selfish, whiny and unnecessarily impatient.
Final Thought: The Magic should still try and honor McGrady during their 25th Anniversary festivities in some fashion. We had 3 wonderful seasons and one that was a complete nightmare. But that doesn't change the fact that Tracy kept Orlando relevant during the dark days of a franchise that wasn't far from moving to Kansas City. I am grateful for what Tracy did on the parquet and off the court, but he could've done a lot more - in a more humbler manner - on it. Talk all the trash you want, but own up to failure. Don't make excuses for it. Just admit it. Maybe one day he will and all will be forgiven. Until then, we can still reference how McGrady kept the Magic afloat long enough to where Dwight, Jameer, and Stan Van Gundy would eventually grab the reins on the path towards another Finals trip. I'm still happy with that John Weisbrod deal, even if 99% of Magic fans rip into it. History supports me

Friday, August 23, 2013

Magic Never Found Answer for Iverson in '99


I'll preface this piece in saying I've never really liked Allen Iverson the individual,...nor cared for his demonstrative mother. I've seen the ESPN 30 For 30 special dedicated to him and have grasped a much stronger understanding as to why Iverson acquired the attitude he displayed for much of his 14-year NBA career. Still, A.I. was a pain in my childhood's ass. 

With retirement in his sights, I can't deny 'The Answer' of being a shoe-in for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall off Fame. I will say though that if the Magic never existed, Iverson's career arc may have been less stellar. The benefits of being possibly the most notorious 'Magic Killer' in team history. Even more than Michael Jordan. Iverson played in 71 career playoff games, averaging 29.7 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.8 rpg, and 2.1 spg. Four of those came against Orlando. What a nightmarish 4 contests those would be for Magic lore. 

In 1999, a 23-year-old Allen Iverson finally got his 76ers to the playoffs in the Georgetown product's third season in the league. The former #1 pick led Philadelphia to a 28-22 record during that shortened Lockout season. It was good enough for the sixth seed in the East where they would face Chuck Daly's 3rd-seeded Magic side. Larry Brown was in his second season with the Sixers. His last playoff encounter with Orlando came in 1995 - a series Pacers fans still hate Orlando for - so you can imagine Larry Brown had extra incentive to pull the upset. 

An extra regular season win and the Magic would've gained the #1 seed and would've faced the...oh...the Knicks. Well maybe Daly would've found a way to take down New York in a way the Heat, Hawks, and Pacers couldn't do that summer. Instead, the 33-17 got the 'worst' seed of the 3-way tie. I guess we should've begged for the Pacers' #2 spot so that we could beat the Bucks

You knew the Sixers could smell blood in the water before the series even started. For one, they annihilated Orlando in Philly both at the start of the season and towards the end of it. The once exception was maybe my favorite conclusion to a Magic regular season game ever - which was also the most brutal 47 minutes I had ever witnessed as indicated by 28.6 FG% - a 74-73 win as a result of Darrell Armstrong stealing a Sixers inbound pass and sprinting to just get off a game-winning lay-up at the buzzer, causing the O-Rena to erupt in disbelief. From then on, Armstrong was dubbed 'Flash'. Thanks for the brain-fart, George Lynch. 

Iverson's regular season scoring totals in order: 16 points, 14 points, and 38 points. The latter was of course foreshadowing. 

The '99 Magic were old, had little depth, and Penny's injured body was a shell of itself just two years earlier. They had some young blood in rookies Michael Doleac and Matt Harpring. Youth would be greatly outweighed thanks to then 40-year-old Danny Schayes and the Wilkins brothers. So with that in mind, Larry Brown knew his team could out-rebound and out-run Daly's squad


Chuck Daly knew going into that series that his troops were in trouble, and so the excuses came before the opening tip of Game 1. Orlando loses by 14 to immediately piss away home court advantage

Iverson set the tone with 30 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards. Clearwater native Matt Geiger decided to punish John Gabriel and the Magic front office for not acquiring him over Penny's recruit Isaac Austin throughout the course of the series. Even when Geiger's scoring drastically dropped in the remaining three contests, he shut down Austin's offense. Ike Austin really deserves a massive chunk of the blame for Orlando's failings, but this was all about Iverson growing up and winning his first playoff game

Game 2 marked the only contest that the Magic were able to contain Iverson to just 4-of-15 shooting and thirteen points. Penny and company got angry and physical. As expected, it marked Orlando's only victory in a low-scoring affair. In hindsight, Matt Harpring probably should have had more minutes defending Iverson. Also, Bo Outlaw should have taken all of Austin's minutes.


Game 3 shifted the series back to Philadelphia where Iverson would record a masterful 33 points, 5 dimes, 5 boards, and 10 STEALS!!! NBA playoff records are never fun when they happen against you. I swear this game is why I DON'T DRINK COFFEE! Iverson was getting knighted as the prince to MJ's departed throne and Penny was getting ripped for doubting Daly


The series was at 2-1, but everyone knew Orlando was done right then and there before Game 4 even had to occur. Nick Anderson's 26 points kept Orlando in the game, but it was too little too late. Iverson, again playing the role of demolition man, posted a series-best 37 points and 9 assists. 
Daly depended on Penny and Nick to carry the offensive load with Austin hiding in the fetal position. 

Their shooting percentages are so disheartening I can't muster the want to post their field goal shooting. Horace was about to be 34 years old and injuries had continued to pile up going back to 1996. You can still argue that Anderson has been mentally cooked in the playoffs since the '95 Finals and that Chuck should have asked more from the remaining supporting cast. Darrell competed well but didn't get nearly the amount of attempts I would have hoped for. Hardaway was still 'the man' even with failing legs and you ride your franchise guy when you have no other options. 

Not only was this series the rise of Iverson, a sneak peek into his NBA Finals trip 2 years later, but this was also the media demise of Penny. It's sad because the man did all he could with limited physical abilities following surgeries. With waning attendance and Anderson plus Penny about to be traded out of town, it was the end of the '90s era Magic that first brought fame and prominence to Orlando.


What sucks even more about losing 3-1 to an inexperienced Philadelphia roster was the Sixers proceeding to get swept 4-0 by Indiana. Iverson did average 28.8 ppg though...on a not so surprising 44-of-115. WHERE WAS THAT 38.3% SHOOTING THE WEEK BEFORE, ALLEN?! Why couldn't you be the high-volume inefficient chucker that we were accustomed to against Orlando? Well that's quite easy, because his confidence was through the roof after drilling over 50% of his shots in the final two wins versus Orlando. From then on, Iverson would lick his chops in the coming years whenever he faced Orlando. 

60 points? Pssshhh:


Miraculous game-winner? Yep:


Clutch free throws? Uh-huh:


There's more, but you get the picture. Iverson will retire as the greatest Magic Killer of all-time.