“ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS MAKE A FREE THROW” Nick Anderson’s charity-stripe choke in Game 1 of the ’95 Finals

“ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS MAKE A FREE THROW” Nick Anderson’s charity-stripe choke in Game 1 of the ’95 Finals

With 8.5 seconds left on the clock, Robert Horry fouled Nick Anderson, sending the Magic guard to the line. With Orlando having a three-point lead, a 70 percent free-throw shooter only had to make one, and the Finals opener would’ve been sealed.

I wasn’t really worried. I was like, ‘Nick will make one or two, I’m sure.’

Penny Hardaway, ESPN

Anderson was short on his first attempt, prompting him to quickly spin around and walk into the backcourt in frustration. But confidence was still there, at least that’s what the whole chest-pounding and hand-clapping antics were saying. Nick went back to the line, and once again went through his usual free-throw routine. But once again, his shot was short. However, Orlando got a break.

Anderson grabbed his own rebound and drew another foul, this time on Clyde Draxler. So after missing two shots from the charity stripe, Nick was sent back to the line with 7.7 seconds left, after another hype-up fest while sitting on the hardwood of Orlando Arena. And while the rebound itself could’ve been the hustle play that gets Anderson’s morale up, he still had to go face to face with his arch-nemesis – the 15 ft line.

At this point, the whole arena was probably thinking the same, ‘there’s no way he doesn’t at least make one.’ Attempt No. 3 — Another miss by Nick Anderson. The excitement level in the arena flattened out, as ‘Nick will make one or two‘ turned into ‘Nick has to make one.’ And while it seemed like Anderson was being able to keep his cool, something gave him away.

He misses the third one, and then he starts smiling. You know when a guy starts smiling, he’s a little tight.

Mario Elie, ESPN

And he was tight, especially on that fourth one. By that point, the pressure was through the roof, and the Magic guard just couldn’t overcome it. His fourth attempt hit the back iron, as Anderson completed a poker of missed free throws with less than 10 seconds left on the game clock. And the worst part is, that ended up costing Orlando a game.

The Rockets got the rebound, and after a timeout called by Rudy Tomjanovich, Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith hit a three on the other end, forcing the game into overtime. With 5.5 seconds left in OT, Dennis Scott tied the game at 118, but a tip-in by Hakeem Olajuwon had Houston stealing Game 1 of the Finals. They eventually went on to sweep Orlando, as they became back-to-back champions, feeding off the momentum gained by stealing Game 1 of the series. And they have Nick Anderson to thank for it.

All he had to do was make a free throw.’