It has only been a few weeks since our Orlando Magic were battling hard against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. We all know the result & how since the Raptors have progressed passed the Philadelphia 76er’s & are presently tied 2-2 with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Final.
Games 1 & 2
We were massive underdogs going into that series. We were written off by many as an irrelevant presence, destined & deserving to be swept.
Game 1 proved we were going to make the Raptors play as we took a superb victory on the road. Game 2 saw us in all honesty blown off the court by a Raptors team stung by their opening loss & seeking to send a message.
I was in a bar in Disney Boardwalk with my family for this game. The table next to us had 3 guys from Toronto sat at it, wearing Raptors tops. These were the first Raptors fans I spoke to in person on the trip. They admitted that this result had eased their nerves. They believed the Magic to be underrated & after the games we’d played during the season a good matchup to them.
Blue & White Ignite
As promised Mikey, Geraint & I from the Orlando Magic UK were out in Orlando representing our British fanbase. This was my first experience of a playoff game or series.
The first thing that hit you on arrival in Orlando was how supported the team were by the city, businesses & locals alike. Banners, flags & artwork adorned bridges, highways, homes, business premises & gardens. The pride in the blue & white had definitely ignited!
Walking around anywhere in a Magic top or cap was guaranteed to get someone stopping to talk about the team in a positive & excited way.
On Good Friday it was time for Game 3 & we were in attendance in Orlando pregame. What a brilliant experience this was! Meeting up in bars with so many people we speak with regularly on social media but had never met in person.
Despite the weather the atmosphere in the bars on West Pine St was building in anticipation of what was expected to be a hard fought game. We decided to move into the Amway early when there was a break in the “light Florida drizzle”!
Once inside the Amway every fan was given noise makers & bam bams. Pregame we spent some time talking with Dante Marchitell, Mackenzie Thirkill, former coach Brian Hill & ex player & fan favourite Nick Anderson, who were all present for Fox Sports Florida.
We were even interviewed & broadcast!
A friend had secured us passes into the Club Level so we headed here for a pregame drink. On getting to our seats there was a t-shirt & light up wristband.
The Atmosphere Builds
In the culmination of our 30th season & our first home playoff game since 2012 Orlando Magic history was well represented with former player Steve Francis, fan favourites Bo Outlaw, Jameer Nelson, Jeff Turner & Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady all present, along with the previously mentioned Nick Anderson & Coach Brian Hill.
As the tip approached the atmosphere built further inside the sold out Amway as the anthems & player introductions were made.
The game lived up to everything we could have hoped for except the final result, a loss of 98-93. Going into the 4th quarter Orlando had been 13 points down. With less than 40 seconds remaining the Magic had fought back to be within 3 points. Unfortunately the brilliant Kawhi Leonard sunk 2 free throws with the clock ticking down to seal the game.
The atmosphere in that 4th quarter was something I will never forget, my voice was shot to hell for days after! The Raptors coach, Nick Nurse commented in a post match interview that the building was so loud he had to write instructions during a time out as he was unable to be heard by his players. Without doubt it was raucous, partisan & passionate throughout.
Prior to leaving the arena we got chance to catch up with our friends & Fox Sports Florida commentary team David Steele & Jeff Turner.
Game 4 was two days later on Easter Sunday & the build up was under a beautiful Orlando sun. Pregame beers on East Church Street, fun outside the Amway at the FanFest with so many of our friends.
I’ll be honest, our hopes & belief for this game had been boosted by our efforts in Game 3. Confidence was high for another solid performance.
This game somewhat surprisingly had not sold out but was close. Inside the arena again everyone had a t-shirt, noise makers, bam-bams & a towel. As the tip approached everyone was pumped but the atmosphere never got to the levels of the Friday night.
Though the 1st quarter was tight it was clear that this game was not going to be Orlando’s, going in 16 points down at the half. With the Raptors 20 points up with 2:52 of the 4th left both teams emptied their benches. The Raptors running out winners by 107-85.
We finished our night by being taken to centre court for a group photo, before heading back to Harry Buffalo’s for a consolation drink.
As we had watched the Magic players leave the court we knew the series was over. Those consecutive home court defeats had took the fight out of the guys. It was therefore not surprising to see Toronto wrap up the series 4-1, with a dominant display. Fair play, the better team won. Kawhi Leonard played like the top player he is & the rest of their squad supported him brilliantly.
That being said we remain proud of our team & what they did in that series & throughout the season.
So finally, on behalf of Orlando Magic UK, for Mikey, Geraint & myself, thank you to everyone who helped make this trip such a brilliant experience for us all.
Here’s hoping this becomes an annual trip!