Scott Leedy of Hardwood Paroxysm has a look back at Tracy McGrady‘s MVP-caliber 2002-03 season with the Orlando Magic. McGrady was phenomenal that season, willing a team that didn’t have Grant Hill and was essentially a collection of spare parts into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, what happened in the playoffs against the Pistons, fair or not, went a long way in cementing McGrady’s well-documented legacy of postseason shortcomings:
After game 4, McGrady would unknowingly utter the words that would come to define him. A sentence that would live on in infamy, forever haunting his place in history. “It feels good to finally be in the second round.” What happened next is well-documented. The Pistons, with the help of some incredible defense by their unheralded rookie Tayshaun Prince, would lock down both McGrady and the Magic; winning the next three games by an average of more than 20 points. Instead of the Pistons, it was McGrady who had “choked”. His momentary slip-up, a brief display of arrogance, had invited an avalanche of criticism. Suddenly, we were blaming McGrady for failing to achieve the impossible.
I’ve always wondered whether criticism of McGrady would’ve had a different trajectory had he never given that quote. After all, as Leedy points out, it’s not like the Magic should’ve been all that competitive in that series anyway. McGrady is painted as the ‘choker,’ but the reality is it was the Pistons who were in danger of losing to the eighth seed in the first round, which would’ve put them in rare company. They would’ve been the first No. 1 seed to lose to an eight seed in the first round in a seven game series, sparing the 2007 Dallas Mavericks of claiming that title.
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