“I felt like they would let us back in the game, but I had to come out (in the second half) and try to get involved in the offense and take control,” said McGrady, who had 14 points in the first half.
The superstars dueled for the entire night as Mashburn scored 40 points. But his final shot was rejected from behind by McGrady, who hit two foul shots in the final minute to seal the victory.
“I went to the basket and tried to create some contact, but McGrady blocked my shot and we got it back and had some opportunities,” Mashburn said. “But we never should have been in that situation. Even if we had won, I wouldn’t have been happy with our collective effort in the second half.”
The rebound of McGrady’s block went to Hornets guard Courtney Alexander, who missed a corner jumper. Time ran out during the scramble for the loose ball.
It was the biggest comeback of the season for the Magic, who erased a 16-point deficit to beat New Orleans on February 8.
“Every time we play those guys, it’s like a playoff game,” said McGrady, whose club lost to the Hornets in the first round of last year’s playoffs. “To win this game was big for us.”
Mashburn’s two free throws tied the contest, 95-95, with 53 seconds remaining. But McGrady hit 1-of-2 from the line to make it 96-95 nine seconds later.
“They were just giving the ball to Tracy, running little pick-and-rolls,” said New Orleans coach Paul Silas. “He was just getting to the hoop or finding open people.”
New Orleans missed three shots on its next possession before McGrady went back to the line and again converted 1-of-2 with 18 seconds to go.
“Mashburn was the only one who could buy a basket (in the second half),” Silas said. “It’s tough when you don’t shoot well. You’re not going to win very many games if you’re not shooting well.”
New Orleans raced to a 60-42 halftime lead, shooting 52 percent in the first half and holding Orlando to 39 percent. But the Magic were a different team in the second half and outscored the Hornets, 24-16, in the third period to begin their comeback. Orlando finished off the rally with a 31-19 fourth quarter.
“Our first unit came out with great energy in the second half,” Orlando guard Darrell Armstrong said. “Once we got the lead under 10, things really started happening.”
“In the first half, it would have been easy for us to fold and think about tomorrow’s game (against Minnesota),” Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. “We waited for T-Mac to come around and get hot. When he started hitting, the whole spirit of the team picked up.”
Mashburn’s two free throws gave New Orleans a 92-87 lead with 2:05 left, but Armstrong made a 3-pointer while being fouled by Kenny Anderson. The four-point play brought the Magic within a point with 1:41 left. Kenny Anderson. The four-point play brought the Magic within a
“I just kept moving to get a good look,” Armstrong said of his 3-pointer. “They were overplaying Tracy. I got a wide-open look and knocked it down.”
On the next possession, Armstrong came up with a steal and fed rookie Gordan Giricek, whose breakaway layup gave Orlando its first lead of the game with 1:37 to go.
“I always think (a comeback) is possible,” Rivers said. “In the third quarter, we kept it at 10 or 12. In this league, if you always keep it at that point in the third quarter, you have a chance. Once we got it to eight or six points, it’s anybody’s game.”
Following a free throw by Mashburn, The Magic took a 95-93 lead on Andrew DeClercq’s layup with 65 seconds remaining.
On the next possession, Mashburn’s jumper from the top of the key hit off the back of the rim. Robert Traylor missed a tip attempt and Anderson missed another follow shot before Giricek grabbed the rebound.
Giricek contributed 18 points and Armstrong added 15 for the Magic, who shot 46 percent from the field (37-of-80).
Mashburn did not get as much support as Traylor and Baron Davis were the next highest scorers for the Hornets with just 11 and 10 points, respectively. New Orleans shot 41 percent (34-of-83).