Cohen: A Chronicle of the 1994-95 Season (Part 5)
By Josh Cohen
ORLANDO -- In just their sixth year of existence, the Orlando Magic advanced to the NBA Finals and ascertained that fortitude, resilience and conviction were more important than experience and expectations.
During this epic playoff run, the Magic closed the Boston Garden, shocked Michael Jordan and the championship-proven Bulls and overcame a heartbreaking buzzer-beating defeat to surpass the Pacers and earn some redemption from one year earlier.
Suddenly, a generally undeveloped collection of talent had evolved into a mega powerhouse with unprecedented national attention.
In spite of their opponent’s familiarity with the boisterous spotlight, most observers and critics picked the Magic to beat the Houston Rockets and win the NBA championship.
While Orlando’s storybook run was extraordinary, Houston’s may have been even more astonishing.
After a relatively disappointing regular season and an overhaul at the trade deadline that delivered perennial All-Star Clyde Drexler to his hometown, the Rockets seemed doomed on several occasions during the playoffs.
For one, Houston mounted an inconceivable comeback in Utah to eliminate the Jazz in a decisive Game 5.
Subsequently, down 3-1 to Charles Barkley and the highly favored Suns, the Rockets managed to win three straight to obliterate and stun Phoenix.
Finally, against the league’s MVP David Robinson and his potent Spurs, Houston surprised the basketball universe to return to the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year.
Fittingly, two teams who had overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles were set to clash on the league’s biggest stage.
Many observers and enthusiasts compared the Shaquille O’Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon matchup to that of the classic Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain skirmishes.
Earsplitting as soon as fans stepped inside Orlando Arena for Game 1, it was apparent that the opener would not disappoint in both exhilaration and bewilderment.
Fans had already witnessed several remarkable games and moments throughout the 1995 NBA Playoffs: Nick Anderson’s steal on MJ, Reggie Miller’s epic eight points in 18 seconds, Mario Elie’s “Kiss of Death” 3-pointer against Phoenix in Game 7, and buzzer-beating game-winners from Patrick Ewing and Rik Smits.
Some unforeseen moments in Game 1 of The Finals would join this list.
After climbing out of a double-digit deficit and following several key missed free throws by Orlando in the closing seconds, Kenny Smith buried a game-tying 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left in regulation and Olajuwon tipped in the game-winner with 0.3 remaining in overtime as the Rockets stunned the Magic in Game 1.
Clearly staggered and disenchanted by their Game 1 collapse, the Magic had a difficult time rebounding the rest of the series.
Despite superior performances from O’Neal (33 points) and Penny Hardaway (32 points), the Magic dropped Game 2. While Smith was the hero in Game 1 for the Rockets, dependable reserve Sam Cassell was the conqueror in Game 2 as his 31 points sparked a Houston triumph and a 2-0 series advantage.
With momentum on the Rockets’ side and a rampant crowd on hand at The Summit in Houston, losing both games on its home floor would prove to be too detrimental for Orlando.
Though they kept Game 3 close throughout, the Magic’s last-second attempt to force overtime was denied as Hardaway’s 3-point heave at the buzzer sailed right.
Unless there was a miraculous recovery combined with an unanticipated collapse, it was inevitable that the Magic would fall short of their ultimate goal.
Fully deserving a second straight Finals MVP award, Olajuwon delivered another outstanding performance in Game 4 as his 35 points and 15 rebounds catapulted Houston to its second straight NBA championship.
Though they had to watch the Rockets celebrate another title, there was no reason to feel any shame after their unforgettable run to the championship round.
The Magic offered fans a treat they will hold with them forever.
The 1994-95 season remains a big part of the Magic’s history and that team will always be honored for their determination and hard work.
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