ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's not nice to fool with primal forces of natures, such as storms, tides or Shaquille O'Neal.
Embarrassed for two games in Indiana, O'Neal exploded for 35 points and 13 rebounds last night, and the Orlando Magic held off the fast-closing Indiana Pacers to win, 108-106, taking a 3-2 lead in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals.
Said the Pacers' Reggie Miller: "He's a monster down there."
O'Neal had been held to a total of 34 points in Games 3 and 4. He missed all eight of his free throws and fouled out of Game 4. He snarled at a youngster to get out of his way leaving Market Square Arena.
His teammates sensed he was in a bad mood.
"I just feel sorry for whoever has to guard him," Penny Hardaway said before last night's game. "He's going to come out like an animal."
Not that the Pacers were any more worried than usual. "To me," coach Larry Brown said before the game, "he always looks like he has smoke coming out of his ears."
Magic fans made up signs, vying for the most creative use of the last name of Game 4 hero Rik Smits.
Right on schedule, O'Neal stomped out of the gate, scoring six points in the first 3:28 as teammates threw him the ball, got out of the way and covered their eyes.
By halftime, O'Neal was up to 20 points and nine rebounds, including a memorable play on which he flicked a loose ball away from Byron Scott at midcourt, spotted an open field in front of him, charged to the hoop, tore through Reggie Miller's arm tackle and dunked.
The Magic led by eight at halftime and by 15 midway through the third quarter. The Pacers, trying to keep the tempo deliberate, set up their half-court offense and the P.A. system played "Swan Lake."
When Brian Shaw tried to throw a lob to O'Neal in the fourth quarter and the ball banked into the basket for a three-point goal -- Shaw called it "The Shaw-Shaq Redemption" -- it looked like the finishing touch on a Magic night.
Down, 104-90, with 4:19 left, the gritty Pacers did what they usually do. They rallied. With 1:05 left, Mark Jackson, an improbable outside shooter, hit his second three-point shot of the game, cutting it to 104-100.
With 30 seconds left, Hardaway missed one of two free throws.
With 22 seconds left, Hardaway made two free throws for a 106-100 lead.
With 16 seconds left, the Pacers' Derrick McKey made a three-pointer to cut it to 106-103.
With 14 seconds left, Shaw missed two free throws.
The Pacers rebounded and hurried up the floor. Brown had his ace marksmen, Miller and Scott, in the game, but the Magic players were all over them. With Shaw playing him loosely, Jackson stepped up and took the three-pointer, himself, but missed, short.
"They were face-guarding Reggie," Jackson said. "They were face-guarding Byron. They weren't going to let them get the ball. I got a good look. It just didn't drop."
Said Brown: "I guess you're supposed to chirp in the papers, but I'm encouraged. I was proud of our team. If anybody would have told you we'd be down 14 with four minutes and change, with Rik on the bench in foul trouble and we'd have a three-pointer to tie with 11 seconds to go. . . "
Orlando's Anfernee Hardaway assured the victory with two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining.
Nick Anderson scored 19 points for the Magic, and Shaw came off the bench to make a trio of three-pointers and finish with 15.
Dialogue in this series has degenerated into a debate on whether the referees are favoring O'Neal and cheating Smits, who fouled out in 28 minutes last night, or favoring Smits and cheating O'Neal. Shaq has called Smits "one of the biggest floppers in the league."
O'Neal, assuming the tranquil persona he often employs for news conferences, later denied he was out to make a statement in last night's game. Then he said he was mad and he wanted to dominate, giving the press a choice of attitudes.
The series moves back to Indiana for Game 6 tomorrow. "If the game goes to form," Brown said, "Rik will get to play and we'll see what happens."
"It's gonna go down to the wire," Indiana's Miller said. "Both teams keep throwing jabs, and the other team is throwing counterjabs. We're fairly close. Each game is so pivotal. It's a two-game series."
Late last night, Smits was heard trying to explain in Dutch to a writer from his native Holland what "flop" meant.
He didn't have to tell him what "Shaq" meant. That's trouble in any language.
Indiana 32 18 22 34 -- 106
Orlando 26 32 25 25 -- 108