Two years ago the Orlando Magic were roundly criticized for signing free-agent Rashard Lewis, then a member of the foundering Seattle SuperSonics, to a wallet-busting 6-year, $110 million contract. It wasn’t so much the signing itself that raised eyebrows, but the fact that the Magic were essentially bidding against themselves for Lewis’ services and that they probably could have signed him to a more modest figure.
Maybe they did overpay a little, and maybe one repurcussion of that lucrative contract is watching free agent Hedo Turkoglu walk this summer.
I’m guessing the price will be considered right, however, if the Lewis and the Magic finish off the Cavaliers, take care of the Lakers or Nuggets, and raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy as 2009 NBA Champions in a few short weeks. Right now that’s looking more and more like a real possibility thanks in part to Lewis’ late-game heroics in these somewhat shocking Eastern Conference Finals.
Rashard Lewis Photo Credit: Icon SMI
It started in Game 1, when the 29-year-old’s triple with about 15 seconds left proved to be the game-winning make in Orlando’s 107-106 win, a victory which ended the Cavaliers’ playoff unbeaten streak at eight games. Tuesday night in Game 4, Lewis was largely MIA through three quarters before snapping to life in the fourth and overtime, first draining a long three from the corner to erase a late Cavaliers lead, then calmly stepping to the free-throw line in OT to score his team’s final 3 points in their 116-114 win.
Sure, he did miss one of those freebies, which opened the door for James to take another shot at buzzer-beating greatness, but James’ prayer from 35-feet fell errant. Game over. The Magic are up 3-1, a lead which in NBA playoff history has only been overcome 4% of the time. I’m not ready to call this series over just yet, but the odds are certainly not in the Cavaliers’ favor.
On the series, Lewis is averaging 19.2 points on nearly 57% FG to go with 4.7 boards. The regular-season leader in three-point shot attempts (at 7 per) is also shooting about 58% from behind the arc, which has put a ton of pressure on the Cavaliers defense and kept them from sagging into the paint and overplaying Dwight Howard.
Lewis is of course not the only three-point threat on Orlando’s perimeter: in fact, Howard is the only Magic player in Stan van Gundy’s playoff rotation who can’t knock down longballs, save for infrequently used big men Tony Battie and Marcin Gortat.
He’s the best and most consistent shooter of the bunch, however, and it’s been a pleasure to see him flourish in these playoffs and rise to the occasion at crunchtime. You have to admire how this kid quietly goes about his business, keeps his cool, and doesn’t seem to get too high or too low.
In many ways, he reminds me of his former SuperSonics teammate Ray Allen; they’re both playing just about the same role for their respective teams, too, as the reliable long-range bomber, the high-percentage free-throw shooter, and the clutch shot-maker. Before too long, they just might share another common distinction: NBA champion. If and when that happens, the lingering whispers that Lewis is overpaid should be put to rest for good.