Bolstered by the outside shooting of guard Kenny Smith, who set NBA Finals records for most 3-pointers made in a game (seven) and quarter (five), Houston overcame a 20-point first-half deficit and defeated host Orlando 120-118 in overtime in Game 1 of the ’95 Finals. Hakeem Olajuwon’s tip-in with only three-tenths of a second left in OT gave the Rockets their comeback victory and a 1-0 series lead. The teams also combined to fire up an NBA Playoff and Finals record 62 3s, with the Rockets hitting 14-for-32 attempts and the Magic 9-for-30.
The pre-series hype and build-up of the Finals was centered on the meeting of the two centers opposing each other: Shaquille O’Neal of the Magic and Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets. Going into the series the matchup was compared to the Bill Russell–Wilt Chamberlain matchup of the 1960s.
The Rockets became the first team in NBA history to beat four 50-win teams in a single postseason en route to the championship. They would also win a playoff-record nine road games in the 1995 playoffs. By vanquishing the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the East Finals in ear-splitting noise at Orlando Arena, a young and talented Magic squad reached the NBA Finals in just the organization’s sixth year of existence – the second-quickest in NBA history. And with a loaded roster that included Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Dennis Scott, and Nick Anderson, the 1995 Finals seemed to be the launching point of one of the NBA’s truly dynastic runs for the decade ahead.
Things couldn’t have started much better for the Magic as they weathered a shaky first half, used a 37-19 explosion in the third quarter and took an 87-80 lead into the fourth. And Orlando would stay comfortably ahead down the stretch, holding a three-point edge in the final minute.
And then disaster hit as Anderson – the first player ever drafted in Magic history and still a beloved figure in Central Florida – missed four consecutive free throws. All he had to do was hit one of two. He missed the first. He missed the second but was lucky enough to get the offensive board and go back to the charity stripe for two more shots at redemption. He ended up missing both of those. That divine intervention gave the Rockets a chance and Kenny Smith came through with another three-pointer to put the game into OT. In the extra session, it was a back and forth affair that ended with a game-winning tip-in by Hakeem Olajuwon. The demoralized Magic would lose the next three games.
That allowed Houston to tie the game and win it 120-118 in overtime on a tip-in by Hakeem Olajuwon.
“I think I thought about it, more than anything when I missed the first two,” Anderson said after the game. “I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ I haven’t missed four free throws in a row in who knows when. So I think it was more mental than anything.”
“It affected the way I played,” he said. “It affected the way I lived. It played in my head like a recorder – over and over again.” Nick “The Brick” Anderson went from a 74 percent free throw shooter to a 40 percent free-throw shooter. He played a few more mediocre years, including a very forgettable stint with the Kings and Grizzlies.
Even to this day, 23 years later for the Orlando Magic, the 1995 NBA Finals serve as both a giddy, unforgettable memory and a time that the franchise would just as soon forget because of the pain associated.