Basking in the afterglow of a 42-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound Game 3 performance against the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday night, Orlando Magic forward Tracy McGrady received a distinguished visitor at his locker. Julius Erving, a senior vice president for the Magic who also serves as a mentor for the team's young players, approached the 21-year-old McGrady, arm extended. After congratulating McGrady and praising him for showing the maturity to pass out of the double team, the 51-year-old Dr. J jokingly asked his young patient, "So, you think you have a future in this league?" McGrady smiled sheepishly. "I'm doing all right," he said.
It was a rare flicker of understatement from McGrady, whose play in the postseason has been worthy of hyperbole. Through the 121-116 Game 3 overtime classic—which enabled Orlando to stave off elimination against the second-seeded Bucks—the 6'8" McGrady was averaging 36.7 points, scoring with either hand on all manner of drives and post-up moves, burying long-range jumpers and going to the line with clockwork regularity. For punctuation he'd also thrown down the kind of dunks usually reserved for those absurdly peppy men who perform with trampolines during timeouts. Milwaukee had done everything short of bringing defensive stalwart Sidney Moncrief out of retirement to try to stop him. Nothing had worked. On Saturday six Bucks—usually two at a time—took turns getting used and abused. "I should probably tell you he's not all that good and we can stop him," says Milwaukee guard Sam Cassell. "But, man, what a wonderful player."
Never mind the NBA's Most Improved Player Award that McGrady received last weekend. After scoring 26.8 points a game during the regular season, he's comporting himself in the playoffs like a future MVP. McGrady's r�sum� for the series includes stringing together a 33-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist line in Game 1; scoring 20 straight points for Orlando in Game 2; and in Game 3 becoming the second youngest player, behind Magic Johnson, to score 40 or more points in a postseason game. "I said T-Mac was definitely among the top five players in the league," says Orlando swing-man Grant Hill, who, before a broken left ankle expunged his season, was supposed to have joined McGrady to form the Eastern Conference's most formidable one-two combination. "And that was before the playoffs."
Adds Magic coach Doc Rivers, "He had a Michael Jordan—type game on Saturday. He tried to get others involved early, then took it to another level and attacked late. I love what he's doing, showing he's not a flash in the pan."
In a contentious trio of games that featured a near brawl, a running feud between Rivers and Milwaukee coach George Karl, eight technical fouls, five flagrants and a landfill's worth of trash talk, McGrady, perhaps sensing that this is what superstars are supposed to do in the playoffs, also pitched a tent in the Bucks' collective psyche. Though Milwaukee had beaten Orlando 11 straight times before Saturday, McGrady—the series' Most Voluble Player, as Dale Hoffman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it—declared that the Bucks "ain't crap." After Milwaukee All-Star guard Ray Allen suggested that McGrady is less effective against physical defense, T-Mac responded, "If you want to bump me, bump me. I'll bump you back. Ray Allen can't stop me one-on-one." Asked whether he was able to get his shot off anytime he wanted, McGrady laughed. "Of course," he said. "Give me a break, man. Have you seen anyone stop me yet?"
McGrady directed much of his woofing at Milwaukee All-Star forward Glenn Robinson. A 22.0-points-per-game scorer during the regular season, Robinson mustered only 14 points in each of the first three games against the tenacious defense of McGrady, whose arms seemingly reach halfway to Tampa. Citing Robinson's ineffectual play in this series, McGrady suggested the Big Dog be rechristened Big Puppy. "Has he been locked down or what?" McGrady then asked. With the Magic trailing by a point in the waning seconds of Game 3, McGrady converted a twisting, left-handed layup despite being fouled. Immediately, he launched into an impassioned soliloquy inches from Robinson's ear. "I told you I'd be bringin' it all night" was among his milder phrases.
As McGrady single-handedly carried the Magic, the question arose whether the Toronto Raptors' management had made the right decision when it embraced Vince Carter as the Man, prompting McGrady to join Orlando as a free agent last summer. While struggling through another shaky playoff series against the New York Knicks, whom the Raptors trailed two games to one after a 97-89 loss on Sunday, Carter had requested more help from his teammates and was clearly ambivalent about being a leader. By contrast McGrady, who signed a seven-year, $93 million deal with the Magic after three years in Toronto, doesn't merely relish the ball at crunch time, he demands it. In the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 3, he scored 21 points, taking 15 shots and attempting nine free throws. "A lot of players put up big numbers during the regular season, but T-Mac's proved he's a total gamer," says Orlando forward Pat Garrity, whose dead-eye outside shooting made the Bucks pay dearly when they double-teamed McGrady.
Barely a year out of braces, McGrady finally showed his age after Game 3. He's a serial slumberer—Pumpkinhead and Big Sleep, his friends call him—who can log 14 hours a night, easy. As he sat in front of his locker and listened to Erving's counsel, he made no effort to stifle a series of yawns. "Past my bedtime," McGrady said.
Before finally sauntering to the TD Waterhouse Centre parking lot, he strapped on a leather backpack, the kind favored by his peers on college campuses. As he drove off, he let off a juvenile scream of elation. This was the rare 21-year-old who didn't mind that his summer vacation had been postponed for at least a few more days.