HOUSTON -- There was Houston Rockets forward Robert Horry spotting up beyond the three-point line, the outcome of the game in his hands. Quite a situation for a player who was nearly run out of town for his unwillingness to find his own shot.
Talk about pressure on a shot? A miss, with Houston clinging to a one-point lead in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, would possibly help the Orlando Magic steal the game and gain life in the series. But Horry calmly nailed the shot, the Rockets held on to win, 106-103, and the celebration in the place they call Clutch City is about to begin.
In winning, the Rockets took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, and the likelihood of this series returning to Orlando for Game 6 is almost nil despite the comments afterward from Magic coach Brian Hill.
"We're capable of winning here on Wednesday night," Hill said. "And winning the series."
Capable, yes. But the Magic, the Eastern Conference champions, are on the verge of becoming the sixth team in NBA history to be swept. The history facing the Magic: no team in the history of the NBA playoffs has come back from a 3-0 deficit.
On the other hand, the Rockets are on the verge of joining a group of recent repeat champions -- the three-peat Chicago Bulls (1991-93), the Detroit Pistons (1989-90) and the Los Angeles Lakers (1987-88).
In Game 1 it was Kenny Smith who stood out. In Game 2 it was Sam Cassell. The cast of stars continued last night with Horry hitting the big shot at the end and scoring 20 points, and Clyde Drexler coming through with his best overall game of the series. Drexler scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and played with the determination of a player ready to end his streak of losing in championship situations (Drexler lost in two NBA Finals with the Portland Trail Blazers, and two NCAA finals at the University of Houston).
And of course there was the steady play of Hakeem Olajuwon, who scored 31 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and once again won his one-on-one duel with Shaquille O'Neal (28 points, 10 rebounds).
O'Neal tried to rally the Magic, which trailed 96-90 after a three-pointer by Mario Elie with 3:15 left. O'Neal backed Olajuwon down in the low post and scored on a hook, ending a stretch of 4:28 that the Magic went without a field goal, missing six straight attempts. Then O'Neal hit two pressure free throws, pulling Orlando to within 96-94.
Then Drexler got loose on the fast break and scored on a dunk. And, after a free throw by Dennis Scott after a delay-of-game technical was called, Drexler went coast-to-coast for a driving layup that increased the lead to 100-95 with 1:13 left.
Eleven seconds later, Nick Anderson hit a three-pointer, ending a string of 10 straight misses from beyond the arc by the Magic (Anderson missed 10 of 14 and Scott missed eight of nine threes) and pulling Orlando to within 100-98. After Horry made one of two free throws, Horace Grant scored on a 10-foot jumper with 35 seconds left that had Orlando within 101-100.
Then the ball was swung on the perimeter to Horry, who launched the three-point shot that set the championship party plans in motion.
"I was a little hesitant taking the shot early, and driving to the basket," Horry said. "Sam [Cassell] pulled me aside and told me to get my legs under the shot, and Dream told me to shoot the three."
And Horry did not disappoint, maybe once and forever dismissing any label of his being gun-shy.
"It wasn't that I didn't want to shoot," Horry said. "I didn't want to make Dream and Coach [Rudy Tomjanovich] mad."
Houston made seven of 19 three-pointers, an aspect of the game that Tomjanovich has everyone -- even his big men -- practicing.
"It's a daily thing we live by," Tomjanovich said. "There's not a guy on this team that won't get into a situation where they are shooting some threes in practice. You never know when they are called upon."
The Magic called upon three-pointers an NBA-record 31 times -- 18 times in the second half. Anderson's 12 three-point attempts broke the record of 11 shared by John Starks in Game 7 last year, and Kenny Smith in Game 1 this year.
"When we have open shots, we have to take them," said Anderson, whose game has not fully recovered from the four missed free throws in the first game. "We got to keep shooting. Every shot I took I felt like it was a good shot. A few rattled in and out, but I can't pass them up."
"You have to give the Rockets credit," Grant said. "They are the
defending champions. They know what it takes."
ORLANDO MAGIC vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS
(Rockets lead series, 3-0)
Game 1: Rockets 120-118, OT
Game 2: Rockets, 117-106
Last night: Rockets, 106-103
Wednesday: At Houston, 9 p.m.
Friday: At Houston, 9 p.m.*
June 18: At Orlando, 7:30 p.m.*
June 21: At Orlando, 9 p.m.*
.' *-If necessary; TV: Chs. 11, 4
TV: Ch. 11