Magic's 2nd-half reverse pins down Bulls, 103-95

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There was no need for the "Hack-a-Shaq" defense in the first half. Shaquille O'Neal was doing quite all right botching shots on his own. Anfernee Hardaway and Nick Anderson were doing the same, combining to hit four of their 16 first-half shots. And yet when the Orlando Magic went into the locker room at halftime, there was still something positive to cling to.

"Even though we played like horse manure," said O'Neal, who hit two of 12 shots in the first half, "we were still down by seven."

A small enough deficit to overcome, and the Magic did just that, getting big third quarters from Horace Grant and Dennis Scott that helped Orlando to a 103-95 win over the Chicago Bulls and a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. Game 6 is tomorrow night in Chicago.

Going into the game, it wasn't quite clear which team was under more pressure: the Bulls, with their veteran players, or the Magic, which in winning in Chicago in Game 3 had reclaimed the home-court advantage.

The Magic played like it was in a pressure-filled drum in the first half, when it shot 31.3 percent, including a 2-for-12 performance from O'Neal. But now the pressure is clearly on the Bulls, who need to win two straight games, something that has yet to be done in this series, to advance.

"We're still alive," said the Bulls' Michael Jordan. "You look at it as us having one game to summer. We look at it as [winning] one game to tying this up."

Jordan did all he could for the Bulls, scoring a game-high 39 points. But his supporting cast would have been best suited for a silent film last night. Scottie Pippen scored 10 points, hitting four of 13 shots in 41 minutes. And Toni Kukoc gave a repeat performance of his disappearing act, scoring five points in 38 minutes

"I think Toni had trouble in this ballgame, offensively just getting enough opportunities making some shots," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "[The team's play] nullified a very good game by Michael Jordan, one of the better games I think he's played so far."

Credit Grant and Scott for spoiling Jordan's fun. Grant's 24 points led Orlando, and Scott added 22. The two scored 11 and nine points, respectively, in the third quarter, when Orlando outscored Chicago 35-20 to turn a seven-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead going into the final quarter. After the poor-shooting first half, Orlando hit seven of its first eight shots to open the third quarter and establish the up-tempo style that eluded it in the first half.

"Coach basically put the stats up on the board [at halftime] and said, 'You guys are basically playing with no life or no energy,' " Scott said. "So in the second half we came out with a lot of energy and life and made things happen."

Grant, who has been the big difference this series, did a better job attacking the basket in the third quarter. And Scott's outside shooting (he hit five of nine three-point attempts) helped open up Orlando's interior game.

"You have to take your hat off to Dennis," Grant said. "He came up big for us. Whenever he is on his game like that, hitting those three-pointers, we are a very difficult team to beat."

Said Pippen, of Scott's shooting: "It really causes a lot of problems because he's a three-point threat and makes your defense expand. When he's shooting the ball well, it really makes it tough on our double-teams."

O'Neal, even on a night in which he started poorly, ended up with 23 points and 22 rebounds. After the Magic's Game 2 loss, O'Neal said he needed the help of Hulk Hogan because he had faced constant double-teams. The Hulkster was courtside last night, even donning an O'Neal jersey in the second half. But his assistance was not necessary.

"We knew that if we came out and hit the easy shots that we missed, and played a little more aggressive, that we could win the game," O'Neal said. "This was a gut check for us. We came out in the second half and played hard, and now we have to go for the win on Thursday."

History is not on the side of the Bulls. Before last night's game, there had been 34 best-of-seven NBA playoff series (not including the Finals) since 1977 that had been tied 2-2 going into Game 5. The team that won Game 5 has gone on to win 30 of the 34 matchups, with 24 of those teams having home-court advantage.

"It appears to be very hard, doesn't it?" Jordan said. "We have to focus on coming out and winning two in a row."

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