Remembering Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals | Magic Basketball



Jul 22

Remembering Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The memory of Game 1 of the 1995 Finals will haunt Magic fans forever. It was a stage where Shaq showed that he would someday be one of the greatest players to play the game, but would have to go head-to-head with another future Hall of Fame center. It was a game of dramatic runs, huge lead changes, and brutal post battles.

When Orlando lost Game 1 to the Rockets in overtime, there was a sense that the series and season were indeed over. Mrs. Momentum had changed her dress, and there would be no stopping the Rockets after such an abysmal unraveling.

The story is simple. The Magic had a 20-point lead late in the second quarter, and blew the lead by the beginning of the fourth. Nick Anderson had a chance to end the game with his Magic up three, but he went 0-for-4 from the line with 10 seconds remaining. It was shocking, and the game went into overtime on some clutch Houston shooting.

Shaq played a better game than Hakeem
This was slated as one of the ultimate center matchups in NBA history. They said no one could contain Shaq but Hakeem, and no one could size up Hakeem but Shaq. It was a battle of power and finesse, and one that will be remembered forever. In Game 1, though, Hakeem struggled (despite scoring 31 points) to dominate the game in the same way Shaq did. Shaq’s vision, especially in the first half, was the driving force that opened up the floor so much for the outside gunners. Even though Shaq scored fewer points than The Dream, he had a career-high in assists that evening, and nearly hit a triple-double. What’s more, he limited Hakeem to six rebounds in the game.

Why the needless double-teaming (and triple-teaming) of Hakeem?
Were they that scared of the guy? There was never a run the Rockets went on where Hakeem dominated and proved he was too tough to stop, and when the lead started to slip away it was a direct result of the needless double-teaming on The Dream. Almost every time he touched the ball he saw double, and sometimes triple teams, leaving his outside gunners wide open from deep. I can’t overemphasize this. The Rockets were the best three-point shooting team in 1995, and their shooters had days and days in some instances to square up and line up their shots. The Magic doubled (and tripled) for the sake of doubling (and tripling). Hindsight is 20/20, but I say trust Shaq to handle himself in the post, and let Hakeem score 35 instead of getting your back broken by the three ball. And, just to be clear, I give credit to Kenny Smith and Robert Horry, who absolutely sniped from deep. 

Kenny Smith > Ray Allen, at least in Game 1
Sometimes there is just nothing you can do about a hot shooter. Kenny stroked seven three pointers in the game (a record which was broken by Ray Allen), but he did it in a way that Ray Allen almost never does at this stage in his career—creating his own shot. Yes, he hit a few off assists from the post, but a majority of his three pointers were off the dribble, and in dude’s faces. You might even call him haphazard in game one, but when you’re hot you’re hot. If you isolate this game, you can make a case for Kenny Smith being better than Ray Allen.

Horry/Drexler combination was too much for anyone (and still would be)
Marv Albert said at one point in the third quarter, “Drexler is everywhere right now.” Understatement. I’ve never seen such a clutch solid performance from an All-Star that was so undermined by the Hakeem/Shaq story.  Clyde single-handedly brought the Rockets out of their original 20-point deficit, and came up with monstrous steals down the stretch. He ran the floor like D-Wade does now, and hit the boards harder than any perimeter player I’ve seen. The rebounding guard has virtually disappeared from the game, and if you want to see an outstanding and near perfect performance from one of the last great rebounding guards, look no further than Game 1 of the 1995 finals.

Clyde transcended “staying the course” in Game 1. He never got frazzled, he never lost his cool, he never started forcing, he just kept doing all the little things right, and in some cases he did the little things better than he usually did. MVP of the game if you ask me.

And if Drexler’s performance wasn’t crippling enough for the Magic, Mr. Clutch, Robert Horry delivered multiple daggers down the stretch from three-point land including a shot early in the shot clock where he bobbled the ball into his shooting motion and knocked it down. These two players put the clamps on Orlando in mind-boggling ways.

Domination inside leads to wide open three point looks that get missed
As stated before, Shaq was transcendent in this game. At one point in the fourth quarter after a gut-wrenching slam, Shaq even waved off his teammates and told them to be quiet en route to a time out huddle. He was zoned in, and nothing could take him out of his domination. This reminded me a ton of Dwight Howard. Here’s why: Shaq had nearly double-digit assists, and should have had closer to 20. Magic shooters went ice cold in the third quarter, but were getting shots even more wide open than the Rockets. Watching this game again seemed eerily familiar with some of the games we watched this past season. Similarly, Magic perimeter players stopped attacking in the second half. It was almost as if they wanted to sit back and watch Shaq do his thing, um, unless the three-pointer was available, in which case they would shoot with reckless abandon. Poor Shaq. Poor Dwight. This comparison makes my stomach hurt.

What I would give for a guy like Horace Grant?
Imagine if Dwight Howard had a power forward backing him up who could hit a 12 footer, bang with almost anyone in the paint, out-rebound most other forwards, and block shots at will? That’s basically what Shaq had in Horace Grant. When Shaq hit the bench early on, Grant absolutely took over, and made moves that he probably can’t even believe that he made. The most impressive thing to me about the Magic in the first half was their ability to play with Shaq on the bench, and that was due, in large part, to Grant’s command and control in a big game. You think Finals experience pays off? I would pay a pretty penny if there were a 1995 Horace Grant available as a free agent right now.

The only fun comparison I can come up with is Big Baby Davis coming to play for the Magic and running the post with Dwight. Is there a better comparison? Probably, but that is mine.

Why couldn’t Penny take over with so much talent?
He’s a 6-foot-7 point guard with mad skills, and only averaged 19.6 points a game in the playoffs. I just don’t get it, and I especially don’t get why he was not looking to take big shots down the stretch in Game 1. Look, the Magic had a game plan and it was to get the ball to Shaq and look for those open threes, but Penny did almost no slashing in this game (primarily the second half). He had some fadeaways and mid-range jumpers early on, but then disappeared during the Rockets surge. This is where the Shaq/Hakeem story once again stepped in the way of what could have been a totally different game. Shaq’s dominance might have limited Penny on one or two occasions (at least in this game). The threat of having someone like Hardaway getting multiple touches and looks changed the face of that Magic team. He executed in the first half, and barely saw any action in the second half. It’s all part of the unraveling, I guess.

The solid factor: Houston had way too much, Orlando had barely any
When I watch this Houston team I see a team with very few holes or hiccups. The only word that comes to mind is solid, really. They limit turnovers, they execute, they play their game, they don’t foul much, they attack, etc. Coming back from 20 down in two quarters to win in overtime (on the road) takes stones like very few current players have. Clyde Drexler is the ultimate example of this, but a cast of Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, and The Dream tighten the bolts on an unmistakably solid team.

Is Robert Horry the most annoying player in NBA history?
Yes. He throws daggers whenever he gets a chance. His four three-pointers in this game were tiresome and even felt lucky. He’s long, and gets after it on defense, so when I say he’s annoying, I mean he’s really good.

Shaq should have fouled out in the beginning of the fourth
Shaq ended the game with five fouls, but there were at least two plays (that I saw) where he should have easily been tagged with a foul. I thought the refs let him get away with murder twice in the second half, which would have been an even worse way to end the night for the Magic. The first play was a traveling violation where Shaq leveled Hakeem onto the floor. The second was a similar bull doze, but instead of the charge, the refs put him on the line to shoot two. Now just think how that game would have ended with Shaq on the bench. My guess is there would be no overtime.

Letting them play
Speaking of fouls, this was a classic example of a mid-’90s game where the refs said “screw it, let them play.” Multiple times players were looking up after a play for a foul. Not in an angry way, or a childish way, just in a, “yeah, that had to have been a foul” sort of way. That stadium was bumping, and a lot of that came from not being able to hear whistles, but this was a banger in the last few minutes of the game.

Nick the Brick
I don’t buy that Nick Anderson lost this game for the Magic. Yes, he went 0-for-4 and only needed to make one, but for goodness sake he should not have been in that situation in the first place. Bummer of a way to climax in your career, but I don’t wave the hate flag at Nick. I would have rather seen the Magic hold on to even part of a 20-point lead and not have to hit big free throws in the clutch. Still, whether or not he “lost the game” for the Magic, he certainly wasn’t clutch, and man that must have hurt for him a whole lot more than it hurt for us. 


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Nate, thanks for looking back on this game. This is a solid article, and there are a number of excellent points you brought up that I've either never considered before, or never thought I'd read on an Orlando Magic blog. (Admitting that Shaq should never have been on the floor late in the game? I'm stunned! =] ) That said I have to take exception to the word "needless" being used about any double and triple teams where Hakeem was concerned.

In the early to mid-90s, Dream was a beast, and he torched any team who dared to try to cover him with a single man -- no matter who that one man was. But anyone who has watched the way Olajuwon dismantled David Robinson in the series just before these finals could tell you that in the '95 playoffs, he was playing on a level even higher than nearly anything he'd attained before.

It was suicide to play him straight-up, and the teams that pushed Houston to the limit that year (Utah and Phoenix) each took their lead in the series (2-1 and 3-1, respectively) while using defenses that collapsed on Hakeem and tried to recover when he passed out to the Rockets' 3pt shooters. No other option was even remotely tenable. The Rockets were a streaky team from outside, and if Vernon Maxwell hadn't gone crazy in Game 5 against Utah, then we're not even having this discussion. Jerry Sloan had determined that if the Jazz lost, it wasn't going to be because of the points number 34 scored, and his defense sold out to deny the ball to the post, and swarm to force the ball outside.

I'll admit the possibility that watching Game 1 of the Finals might give the impression that Orlando overreacted to the threat of Hakeem's offense, but if you examine that game in the context of the playoffs as a whole, I think that you're likely to reevaluate your conclusion and agree that getting the ball out of the Dream's hands (at all costs) was the Magic's best strategy for beating Houston. Unfortunately for Magic fans, by the time Orlando faced Houston, the Rockets were hitting on all cylinders and after the first game, were in complete control.


Seems like some revisionist history regarding the Shaq/Hakeem matchup. First, Hakeem had 31 points, not 27. Second, he had 6 rebounds, not "under five". Third, he had 7 assists vs. 3 turnovers. Shaq had 9 assists but also 7 tovs. Dream also had 4 blocks and 2 steals, and can be credited for holding Shaq to just 16 FGA. Dream was leading the playoffs with 33.0 ppg and he finished with 31 pts despite all those double and triple teams that you have decided weren't necessary.


I remember that game, I was a teenager! It was a sad day, If only a couple of "those" free throws would fall that day maybe we would have a Championship banner today! If only... Then in 2009 finals, If that shot from Lee would go inside the basket, if only... damn!

Carlo Simone
Carlo Simone

Great write-up.  I've never really gotten over this game.  Nick Anderson will always be one of my all time favorite players and I refuse to hate based on this game.  Still, that Rockets team was better than they were given credit for.  You don't repeat as champion without being a special team.

Nate Drexler
Nate Drexler

Well said. I definitely took that point out of context, and you just put it all back into context. 


PS And game 1 was Hakeem's weakest performance of the series.  He averaged 32.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg and 5.5 apg for the finals


Yeah really, but you have to ask yourself: How many championships would we have if he had made those free throws?


I am a huge Magic fan and agree with AYC that the oddly slanted view of Hakeems impact in this article is false, at best.  He was also refered to as a part of Clyde Drexler's supporting cast, which is a mind boggling statement.  The Dream had to be double teamed, maybe not as sloppily as the Magic did down the stretch, but he would have scored 40-45 if not. Either way, the best player on the court won. 

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

I think you're reading too much into that sentence. Supporting cast is only meant in general. It's not meant to lessen Olajuwon as the lynchpin of the team.