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Magic opens season with win over Sixers

McGrady, Hill finally shine together, keeping Orlando ahead late.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002

ORLANDO -- The Magic's season was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

But it did not really get going until the last eight minutes of the game.

That's when Orlando coach Doc Rivers told Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, who have waited two years to show what they can do together on the same court, to do just that.

Orlando won its opener 95-88 over Philadelphia in front of 15,225 at the TD Waterhouse Centre thanks to the All-Star caliber play of McGrady and Hill.

McGrady led the team on opening night for the third consecutive season with 31 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals.

But all eyes were on Hill, who has played just 18 games in two seasons and is coming off his third ankle surgery.

He was rusty but healthy, going 5-of-10 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line to finish with 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

McGrady took care of the scoring, and Hill did everything else.

"Grant Hill was tremendous tonight," Rivers said. "I thought some of the things he did with the ball, facilitating our offense down the stretch was huge."

Orlando and Philadelphia traded the lead through three quarters, then the Magic started to click on all sides in the fourth to pull away.

Leading the way were McGrady and Hill, who together were everything Rivers could have hoped.

"I thought (Hill) and Tracy in the last 8 minutes of the game played the two-man game off each other as well as you can play," Rivers said. "They just played off each other. They're going to keep getting better."

McGrady was All-NBA first team last season, so he knows an impressive performance when he sees one.

"He showed the old Grant Hill," McGrady said. "I don't know anybody that does it better in the open court, that gets the ball in transition and pushes the ball up and makes something happen. I don't know anybody in this league that does it better than Grant Hill."

Hill was limited to 33 minutes. That might not be enough to satisfy him again.

"You know, the competitor in me wants to play more," he said, "and of course I'm out there and I'm feeling good and I'm going to fight for more minutes."

Whether Orlando can keep it up through an 82-game season, whether that will translate into playoff success in April is unknown. But late Tuesday it was enough to erase memories of a forgettable first half.

"It was a strange game," Rivers said. "I felt at halftime both teams were treading water. Both teams were scoring, there wasn't a lot of defense, and then all of a sudden in the middle of the third quarter I think Philadelphia hit us first."

After battling to a halftime tie at 51, Orlando quickly fell behind by nine with 6:33 left in the third.

The Magic were on the wrong end of a 12-3 Philadelphia run led by 76ers star Allen Iverson, who had six points, a steal and a rebound in that run.

It was in the fourth that McGrady flourished and Iverson faded. McGrady's layup with 7:14 left put the Magic ahead 81-78.

A minute later he drained a 19-footer to pad the lead to five. Then he drove inside with 4:59 left and dished off to Pat Burke for a dunk to make it 85-80.

A Philadelphia turnover led to Burke sinking two free throws to make it 87-80. Hill's layup kept the lead at 89-82 with 3:50 left.

Iverson missed his last four and finished with 13 points. Aaron McKie and Keith Van Horn led the 76ers with 19 each.

Said Iverson: "He looked like the same Grant Hill to me."

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