Who needs that Jordan guy for TV ratings?
Or some tattooed, rainbowhaired Worm begging for attention?
What do you know: Actual basketball will do just fine.
Even Dr. Naismith would have applauded and appreciated Magic vs. Pacers, Game 4, on Monday at Market Square Arena. Anybody with a pulse should have.
The frantic final was Indiana 94, Orlando 93. And it was a lot closer than that. A tenth of a second came between them.
This was a VCR special, a clip n’ save, a one-for-the scrapbook ending.
Four lead changes and 11 points in 13.3 seconds. Ever seen anything like it? No, never, not in our lifetime, said players and coaches, regardless of club affiliations.
Said Indiana coach Larry Brown, who has been around: “You guys love this game? … I can’t remember even watching one like that. I think the league has to be happy.”
Magic small forward Dennis Scott: “This is why young guys like myself leave school early - to play in games like this.”
Magic power forward Horace Grant: “Not in my eight years have I seen anything like that. It should be a TV series.”
Pacers guard Reggie Miller: “I’m sure it gave people here in (armchair) quarterback chairs a heart attack. It would have me. No matter who you’re cheering for, you had to be excited about this game.”
The Magic and Pacers traded four large shots in the last hand-wringing, pulsating, incredible 13 seconds - three of them 3-pointers. Trailing 93-92, the Pacers beat the clock when Rik Smits hit a shot with 0.1 left in the game and their season, for all practical purposes.
If Smits misses, Orlando goes up 3-1 against the Pacers and …
“… and they’re dead,” Magic forward Donald Royal said.
Those bedeviling Pacers are very much alive, coming back from a 2-0 deficit that suddenly has Magicdom coming down with sweaty palms. Fans have a serious series on their hands. Monday was a Byron Scott flashback, wasn’t it?
The silver lining, Magic fans: Two of the last three games (if necessary) are at the O-rena. It’s location, location, location, as each team has taken two apiece at home.
No one could have thought this was going to be easy - even with the Magic escaping with a 2-0 lead. No one should have thought Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t miss eight free throws anymore. (An 0-fer-8 in a one-point game is a collar tighter than one Dennis Rodman wears. Then again, he also missed three dunks.) No one should have thought Shaq never would foul out (or the refs would get picky), leaving a 39-year-old assistant coach (Tree Rollins) to defend Smits.
Fact is, the Magic were fortunate to have any shot at the end, considering Shaq and Grant had used their allotted fouls 14 seconds apart.
The Magic again were not afraid to swallow hard and take the big shots between the bedlam. Brian Shaw buried a 3 for an 90-89 lead with 13.3 left, but Miller responded with another with 5.2 left. Then Penny Hardaway fired back with a 3. Magic, 93-92. A little more than a whisk of a second remained. “We’re on the bench thinking, ‘We’re going to Orlando to finish it,”’ Royal said.
But a sign in the stands said it all: “SMITS HAPPENS.”
The Pacers evened a series that has been so tight the participants can’t change expressions. They tied a series that is becoming something special, teeming with all the suspense and drama of a rooftop chase.
Every game has come down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter, much to the delight of NBC, TNT and commish David Stern.
It’s the NBA’s masterpiece theatre minus Michael and Sir Charles and anybody from a New York area code. It’s small market-team mania - Disney World vs. Hooterville. It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting tractor-pull, folks.
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