Magic smashes on to final showdown against Houston


ORLANDO, Fla. -- Abracadabra, Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers are gone. They were swallowed whole in Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals by Shaquille O'Neal and his Magical young teammates from Orlando, 105-81.

Before an electrifying crowd of 16,010 that only began watching professional basketball six years ago, the Magic advanced to the championship round.

"Everybody kept saying we couldn't shoot free throws, we didn't have the experience, we couldn't go all the way," said Anfernee Hardaway through a voice thick with vindication afterward. "It motivated us, it really did. While everybody was criticizing, we just kept playing ball."

O'Neal's 25 points and 11 rebounds in 35 minutes secured his marquee matchup with Hakeem Olajuwon and the Western Conference champion Houston Rockets in the finals beginning Wednesday here.

Showing off his grace instead of power, he had 17 points in the first half. Hardaway, Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson and Horace Grant then proceeded to turn Orlando Arena into their own playground in the second half, shutting Miller down and outscoring the Pacers by 50-36 over the last two quarters.

"I thought Nick played him as well as you could play him," Magic coach Brian Hill said of Anderson's defense on Miller. After exploding for 36 points in Indiana's 123-96 Game 6 rout, the All-Star Pacer guard was held to a very unclutch-like 12 points last night.

He made only five of 13 shots.

The guarantees of victory all week long by Pacers point guard Mark Jackson and the supreme confidence of Miller were overshadowed last night by an Orlando team that exploded from three-point range in fourth quarter.

Dale Davis led the Pacers, who lost for the second straight year in Game 7 of the conference finals, with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

The game was hardly in doubt for Orlando after a 13-1 run in the third quarter pushed the Magic ahead 73-55 with 4:48 remaining. Scott, who played 44 minutes and hit five of seven bombs, then banged home a 23-footer to demoralize the Pacers' rotating defense.

Streamers came down the rafters and fireworks exploded as the Magic players embraced at their bench when the game ended. O'Neal, wearing an Eastern Conference champion baseball cap, somehow found his mother on the court amid the hysteria, hugged and kissed her and then waved the crowd onto the court.

The biggest game of Indiana's season had turned into Orlando's Eastern Conference coronation.

"If we played our best game, I don't think we would have won with the way they played tonight," Pacers coach Larry Brown said. "They had great performances from everybody."

Scott finished with 19 points, Grant added 16 points and 9 rebounds, Hardaway had 17 and Anderson added 12. Orlando was 13 of 17 from beyond the arc.

"We weren't worried about the experience factor," O'Neal said. "Since we won our first Game 7, now we have experience."

Indiana center Rik Smits was ineffective, scoring 10 in 24 minutes. He picked up his third foul with 7:20 remaining in the third quarter and went directly to the bench, which hurt Indiana's chances severely.

It is apparently not good business to draw the ire of O'Neal before Game 7. He hit seven of his first eight shots. His arsenal ran the gamut. From short jump hooks across his body to pillowy 10-footers from the baseline, he relied on more grace than power and finished the half with 17 points and only two fouls.

Meanwhile, his NBC promo counterpart appeared near cancellation for the remainder of the summer season. Miller took only seven shots in two quarters, made three and had only 7 points. The Pacers seemed intent on beating the Magic with someone other than Miller, leaving him standing alone on the perimeter several times in the first half.

Whatever fire that possessed him to score as many points as the Magic did in the first quarter of Game 6 (20) was still waiting for kindling last night. It has been his custom to explode in one playoff game of a series and then disappear in the next.

"They played more of a scrambling type defense, always having someone on me," Miller said. "I didn't get a lot of easy looks like I did in Game 6. Got to give Anthony Bowie and Nick Anderson a lot of credit. They played well.

"I take the burden for this loss. I feel bad for the guys because I didn't play particularly well. They should have nothing to put their heads down about. This was definitely Reggie Miller blowing it for them."

Or O'Neal and Magic winning it for Orlando. In no time, the young guns have advanced to meet the old guard.

"I'm sure you heard from Shaq what his thoughts are about Hakeem," Hill said. "He considers him probably the greatest player in the game. It's going to be a heck of a challenge."


ORLANDO MAGIC vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS (Best of seven) Wednesday: At Orlando, 9 p.m.

Friday: At Orlando, 9 p.m.

Sunday: At Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 14: At Houston, 9 p.m.

June 16: At Houston, 9 p.m.*

June 18: At Orlando, 7:30 p.m.*

June 21: At Orlando, 9 p.m.*

* -- if necessary

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