In honor of the Orlando Magic making their second-ever NBA Finals appearance, here's the best of the worst from their championship series debut.
The Worst of Game 1:
The Orlando Magic: Playing in their first NBA Finals at home in front of a wildly out-of-control sellout crowd, the Magicians started the game like a stomach full of cheesy double beef burritos covered in fire sauce. As a result, Orlando led by as many as 20 points in the second quarter. But Houston cut the lead to 11 at the half and then outscored the Magic 37-19 in the third quarter to lead 87-80 going into the fourth. The Enchanters would eventually succumb in overtime, 120-118. And here are the reasons why:
Shaq: The Diesel went 10-for-16 from the field and nearly recorded a triple-double (26 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists). Unfortunately, the Big Butterfingers couldn't hang on to the ball (finishing with a game-worst 7 turnovers) or contain Hakeem Olajuwon (who had a game-high 31 points). But his biggest blunder came in the final seconds, when he went for the block on Clyde Drexler instead of sticking to Olajuwon...who tipped in the game-winner with three-tenths of a tick left on the clock.
Orlando's perimeter defense: As if it wasn't bad enough that Shaq couldn't control the paint, the Magic couldn't stop Houston's air attack either. Mario Elie went 7-for-11 from the field and Kenny Smith drained 7 three-pointers...which set an NBA Finals record. (Smith notched another Finals record by knocking down 5 of those threes in the third quarter.) The Rockets finished 14-for-32 from downtown (setting a new team record), compared to 9-for-30 for Orlando. Apparently "magic" is no substitute for a good oldfangled "hand in the face."
Nick Anderson: Poor Nick. He scored 22 points (9-for-18), hit nearly half of his team's threes, grabbed 11 boards, and dished out 5 assists while also contributing a team-high 3 steals. He even blocked a shot! But he will only -- and, like, forever -- be remembered for, well, go to the 4:45 mark in this video:
That's right: He bricked two freebies with 10.5 seconds left, actually managed to come away with the offensive board (forcing Houston to foul him again), and then gonged TWO MORE free throws. Oh the fail on that sequence is off the charts. For more on this tragedy, let's consult Nick's Wikipedia page:
Game One of the NBA Finals against the defending champion Houston Rockets, at the Orlando Arena. With the Magic up by three points late in the game, Anderson, typically a 70% free throw shooter, missed four consecutive free throws that could have sealed the victory for Orlando. Kenny Smith hit a three-pointer for Houston shortly thereafter, tying the game and sending it to overtime. The Rockets went on to win the game in overtime and eventually swept the Magic, winning their second consecutive NBA Championship. As a result of this incident, some Orlando fans began to label Anderson with the derogatory nicknames of "Nick the Brick" and "Brick Anderson."
Two seasons after the 1995 finals, Anderson's career took an abrupt downward spiral, largely due to a sudden inability to shoot free throws, and he even suffered an injury in Game 3 of the conference finals in a rematch against the Bulls and was out for the season. During the 1996-97 season, Anderson free throw shooting percentage tumbled to a career-low 40.4% and his scoring average to 12.0 points per game. Anderson had to be removed from the closing minutes of several close games due to his undependability at the charity stripe.
His struggles worsened through the first half of the 1997-98 season. Through January 27 of that season, Anderson was averaging only 6.5 points per game, and shooting a paltry 36.3% from the free throw line...
You get the picture. It was bad. Basically, those four missed free throws destroyed Brick's, er, Nick's career. According to a Sports Illustrated article, "[Anderson] was so hesitant about going to the line that he stopped driving to the basket, afraid of getting fouled. His timidity reached the point where the Magic had to include an incentive in his contract -- based on how many free throws he shot -- to keep him from hiding on the perimeter." Eventually, Nick consulted a sports psychologist, who helped him bump his free throw percentage back into the 60s, but the damage was done.
Update! Basketbawful reader Jwoey commented: "Don't forget the other thing Nick Anderson will never be remembered for because of Game 1. He's the only player in NBA history to score 50 points in a game off the bench." Indeed. It happened on April 23, 1993. On a night in which Shaq busted his second backboard of the season, Nick exploded out of his warmups to shoot 17-for-25 from the field, 4-for-7 from distance and a perfect 12-for-12 from the charity stripe. Mind you, he scored that 50 points in only 33 minutes. That's one freaky efficient performance. And the Magic won 119-116. Shaq had only 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting and nearly fouled out. Orlando's second-best player that night was Scott Skiles (19 points, 9 assists and only one fewer rebound than Shaq). Bernard King had his best game of the season for the Nets (24 points, 10-for-16) and would play only four more games before retiring.
Donald Royal (Magic) and Pete Chilcutt (Rockets): Each man recorded a one trillion in Game 1.
The Worst of Game 2:
The Orlando Magic: After the heartbreaking way they lost Game 1, you'd assume that the Magic would absolutely KILL THEMSELVES to win Game 2...right? Well, if you thought that, you're probably the kind of person who believes all those Chuck Norris facts. (And if you believe those facts, I know a rich man in Nigeria who's dying and wants to give you all his money. All I need is your bank account number...) This game proved that you can never overestimate the heart of a non-champion. The Magic came out with the kind of energy you'd expect in Game 2 of the preseason. They were down 22 at the half and never really challenged again as the Rockets coasted in for a 117-106 victory. It was the Rockets' seventh straight road win, breaking the record of six in one NBA playoff series set by Chicago in 1991, and Houston's ninth playoff road win overall, breaking the record of eight set by the 1981 Rockets. This also marked only the second time in Finals history where the winning team won Games 1 and 2 on the road. (As many of you pointed out, the 1993 Bulls-Suns Finals was the first time.) I guess what I'm trying to say is: Historic fail.
Nick Anderson, quote machine:Said the Brick: "Our backs are already against the wall. If we lose Game 3, we're shoved into the closet. You could say we're desperate. We lose Game 3, then, basically, we're barely peeping out of a hole."
Tree Rollins, quote machine: Despite going down 2-0, Shaq's seldom-used backup was in high spirts after the game: "We got 'em right where we want 'em. We're loose. We've got nothing to lose." It would turn out, however, that they had plenty to lose.
Pete Chilcutt: He recorded his second consecutive one trillion of the Finals.
The Worst of Game 3:
Shaq: The Big Fella once again had a big-time game: 28 points (11-for-17), 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks. However, he missed almost half his freebies (6-for-11), committed a game-high 4 turnovers and got destroyed on the defensive end by Hakeem, who had game-highs in points (31) and rebounds (14). (Olajuwon also had a team-high 7 assists.) Poor Shaq. The 1995 Finals must have been like being covered in flesh-eating bacteria. Amusingly enough, Shaq remained confident his team could come back and win the series: "We've gone down to the wire in all the games. We just got to get that first win and go from there."
Nick Anderson: Remember that Sports Illustrated article I referenced above that said "[Anderson] was so hesitant about going to the line that he stopped driving to the basket, afraid of getting fouled"? Well, check out these numbers: Anderson attempted 14 shots, 12 of which were from beyond the arc. All four of his made field goals were threes. He had zero free throw attempts. Basically, Nick would have been taking his shots from out of bounds if they refs would have let him.
Dennis Scott: I'm not going to mince words here: Dennis Scott sucked in the 1995 NBA Finals. He went 3-for-10 in Game 1 and then again in Game 3. Amazingly, he was even worse in Game 3, going 2-for-11...which included a dreadful 1-for-9 three-point shooting performance. It was like Scott was receiving electric shocks to his genitals every time he attempted a shot. And in retrospect, I really hope that was the case.
Orlando's perimeter defense: Kenny Smith was 1-for-7 and missed all four of his three-point attempts and Houston went only 7-for-19 as a team. But Robert Horry began his transformation into "Big Shot Rob" by drilling a three-bomb with 14 seconds left to help the Rockets eke out a 106-103 victory and a 3-0 series lead. Go to the 4:05 mark:
Horace Grant: In case you didn't watch that video, it was Ho Grant that got dotted by Horry's three.
Charles Jones: Talk about your useless stints. Jones logged 12 minutes of PT and finished with 4 fouls and a turnover. He didn't even attempt a shot.
Pete Chilcutt: That's right...a third straight one trillion!!
The Worst of Game 4:
The Orlando Magic: Swept. All in all, a pretty embarrassing way to finish the season, especially considering they were heavy favorites heading into the Finals. It became only the sixth time in league history that a team lost 4-0 in the championship series. Again: Historic fail.
Shaq: The trend of this series continued in Game 4, as Shaq padded his stats (25 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks) but set a game-high in turnovers (6) while getting used like an old-school Atari joystick by Hakeem (35 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals). The Dream even knocked down a three-pointer! It's not surprise that Olajuwon was a unanimous choice for Finals MVP. Looking back, it's mildly surprising Shaq didn't become The Big Relocated Witness after this series.
Orlando's perimeter defense: Again with the trends! Robert Horry (21 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists) kicked in four triples and Mario Ellie (22 points, 4 steals) went 4-for-6 from downtown and 9-for-11 overall. Basically, the Magic couldn't stop Hakeem in single coverage and they paid dearly if they tried to double-team him. Not surprisingly, that lose-lose situation led to, well, a big loss.
Nick Anderson: His unraveling became complete in this game, as he played only 31 minutes, shot 1-for-5 and finished with as many points as fouls (4).
Penny Hardaway, quote machine: "I feel like we let the entire Eastern Conference down and let ourselves down by not winning a game. If we had to play the series over again, I don't think they'd be four games better than us. But they were in this series." It's a real shame that David Stern didn't let them play this series over again. It would have been a real joy to hear what Penny had to say after watching his team get swept twice.
Pete Chilcutt: He never got into the game, which means that he AVERAGED a one trillion in his first and only NBA Finals appearance...despite appearing in three out of four games. That should earn him a bronze statue in Basketbawful's All-Lacktion Hall of Shame.
Rudy T, quote machine: And here's the classic speech: "Never underestimate the heart of a champion. I don't have a vocabulary to describe how I feel about this team, about their character, about their guts. No one in the history of the league has done what this team has done. We won more road games than anybody. I don't know if a player has ever played as great as Hakeem Olajuwon did all through this playoff series. I don't know if a team has made a major trade during the course of a year and kept their chemistry together. This is a special team. Everybody we beat during the playoffs could have been a championship team. The lack of respect for this team has to stop. I'm the proudest guy in the world."