ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Orlando Magic needed every advantage: the home court, an overpowering Shaquille O'Neal, a fouled-out Rik Smits, a clutch Brian Shaw and some fortuitous breaks down the stretch. It used everything at its disposal to subdue the Indiana Pacers last night, and it was barely enough to squeeze out a 108-106 victory at Orlando Arena.
And a critical victory it was, giving the Magic a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. A win tomorrow night in Indianapolis would put the 6-year-old franchise into the NBA Finals for the first time.
O'Neal returned to his form of the first two games of this series, when he averaged 36.5 points, as opposed to the 17.0 points he averaged in two losses at Market Square Arena. He scored 35 points, including nine of 19 from the line, and the Magic survived some ugly misses during a late Pacers rally.
"The last two games I didn't play much, so I had a lot of energy," O'Neal said. "I wanted to play aggressive."
Shaw scored 10 of his 15 points in the final period to give the Magic a 14-point bulge it nearly wasted. Nick Anderson added 19 points.
The Pacers almost pulled it out, but were hurt when Smits fouled out with fewer than four minutes left.
They also couldn't get a repeat of last year's Game 5 heroics from Reggie Miller; last year he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, but only 10 of his 21 this time.
Nevertheless, they sliced a 104-90 Magic lead with 4:21 left down to 106-103 with 15.7 seconds left. Shaw scared the sellout crowd by missing a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left, but Mark Jackson was short on a three-pointer with five seconds to go.
Anfernee Hardaway sealed things with a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds to go, making Miller's three-pointer at the buzzer moot.
"I feel fortunate that we were able to win," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "I don't think we panicked, but we made some mistakes that could have cost us the basketball game."
The Magic controlled the last three quarters, starting with a smothering second quarter in which it held the Pacers to 2-for-17 shooting and jumped to a 58-47 lead late in the first half.
Orlando continued its dominance in the third quarter, when it exploded for eight straight points in 70 seconds to jump ahead 72-58 with 6:49 to go in the period. O'Neal scored nine of his 13 third-quarter points in the first 4:41 of the period. The Magic led by 15 late in the quarter and by 11 points going into the fourth.
"For three quarters they did just about everything they needed to do," Pacers coach Larry Brown said.
The Pacers closed it to 89-84 with 8:49 to go after Miller's three-pointer was the last of five straight shots the Pacers hit.
With eight minutes left, they were down 91-86. Then Shaw went on his three-minute binge -- eight straight Magic points and 10 of 13 -- pushing his team to a 14-point lead with 4:21 left. Shaw hit a three-pointer with 7:28 left; followed quickly by two free throws out of three when he was fouled beyond the arc by Smits; an excuse-me three when he threw a lob to O'Neal from the left wing, and a rebound and reverse put-back of Dennis Scott's missed three.
"That was the Shaw Shaq redemption," Shaw said of the alley-oop pass to O'Neal.
To make matters worse for the Pacers, Smits fouled out with 3:37 left after scoring 20 points.
Yet the Pacers made one final charge, scoring 10 straight points, aided by four missed O'Neal free throws and capped by Jackson's three-pointer that cut the deficit to 104-100 with 1:05 to go.
With a chance to cut it even further with 36 seconds left, Miller drove, ducked under O'Neal and seemed to have a layup, but O'Neal slapped the ball from his grasp. Derrick McKey caught it but missed a layup, and, with 30.9 seconds left, Hardaway broke the Magic's drought with a free throw.
The first half was dictated by two factors. O'Neal had his way inside, bulling his way for position and shots, crashing the offensive boards and going 8-for-14 from the line in the half, two more attempts than he had in the two games in Indianapolis combined.
On the other end, the Pacers suffered from a major second-quarter scoring drought, exacerbated by Brown's decision to go a stretch of 6:44 of the period without either Smits or Miller.
Smits sat with two fouls with 10:32 left in the quarter and the game tied at 32; Miller rested with 9:47 to go and the Magic up 34-33. Smits sat the rest of the half and, by the time Miller returned with 3:03 left, the Magic led 49-45.
Indiana .. 32 .. 18 .. 22 .. 34 .. -- .. 106
Orlando .. 26 .. 32 .. 25 .. 25 .. -- .. 108