The battle of Game 1
On the 41st anniversary of the day allied troops invaded Normandy Beach in France to send the Germans into retreat, the Rockets would meet the Magic in Game 1 of the NBA Finals looking to do the same thing. Before the game, NBC broadcaster, and part-time Houston skeptic Bob Costas had this to say about the Rockets chances.
While a disagreement could be made that the Drexler trade didn’t work out at first until the playoffs, it seemed like Costas had a point because, from the start of the game, the Magic jumped on the Rockets. Houston struggled to get things going as Orlando would jump out to an early twenty-point lead and Olajuwon would commit three fouls in the first half.
But Drexler would once again show why he was who he was. A big play in the second quarter came when Drexler makes a three, steals the ball from Nick Anderson, passes it to Kenny Smith, and flies down the court to receive a bounce pass from Smith, ending the play with a two-handed jam. This would cut the deficit down to 11 points as Drexler would finish with 15 first-half points.
Then in the second half, a shooting bonanza occurred as Houston outscored the Magic 37-19 to grab the lead. A big reason why was Kenny Smith, who connected on five three-pointers, which along with a three in the first half, tied an NBA Finals record set by Bill Laimbeer, Dan Majerle, Michael Cooper, and Michael Jordan. The Rockets led by seven through three quarters.
Orlando would respond in the fourth quarter as they hung tough with the Rockets before taking the lead. With time winding down, the Rockets would misfire on a Drexler three while the Magic would extend their lead. Then, Brian Shaw missed a three that would’ve put the game away. Instead, Orlando got the rebound and the ball went to Nick Anderson who was fouled.
How fitting would it be for Nick Anderson, the first pick in the history of the Magic, who came close to win a national championship, and made the biggest play of his life against Michael Jordan a few weeks prior, would get the chance to seal the game with a free throw. After all, he was a 71% free throw shooter in 1995. All he needed was one free throw. No trouble at all, right?
Well, two missed free throws later, Anderson gets the rebound and he is fouled. He gets another two free throws. Surely, he can’t miss two in a row?
Spoiler alert, he does and the Rockets get the rebound down three. They set the play up. After clutch shots by Mario Elie and Robert Horry in the playoffs, who will get the ball this time? The answer, the record-setter in Mr. Smith.
With that, momentum has swung and once again, the resilient Rockets have a new life as the game goes into overtime. Houston gets a pair of Robert Horry three-pointers to get them ahead, the Magic, however, would find a clutch shooter of their own as Dennis Scott tied the score at 118 with a three. With five seconds left, Houston got the ball to Clyde Drexler, who drove to the basket. What followed was another incredible finish to an incredible game in an incredible playoffs.
Dream? Tip please!
With that, the game was over. In some ways, the series was over after that because Orlando was never the same afterward. Some people believe that if Nick Anderson had made a free throw, the Magic were champions.
Nope! They would’ve been up 1-0, which meant good news for the Rockets that year. But let’s move forward to Games 2-4 and dissect how the series was over.