HOUSTON -- It was a giant newspaper banner, lowered from the rafters of The Summit with a headline proclaiming the Houston Rockets "A team of destiny." And last night the defending NBA champions took one more step on their way to a second straight title.
Holding a 101-100 lead in the final minute, Robert Horry stepped forward as the latest hero as he buried a three-point shot with 14 seconds left and the Rockets held on for a 106-103 victory over the Orlando Magic before a sellout crowd at The Summit.
In winning, the Rockets took a 3-0 lead in the best of seven series, and left little hope that this series will return to Orlando.
Horry scored 20 points, hitting two big three-pointers in the fourth quarter. And Drexler came through with his best game of the series, scoring 25 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. The efforts were more than enough to support the usual brilliant game by Hakeem Olajuwon, who had 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
Shaquille O'Neal scored 28 points and Anfernee Hardaway 19 to lead the Magic. But Orlando was miserable from three-point range, hitting just seven of 29 attempts.
It was tied at 75 going into the final quarter, the teams would play through five ties and four lead changes over the first five minutes of the final quarter. Houston would take the lead for good on a tip-in by Olajuwon with 7:04 left.
Orlando would go cold from the field, missing six shots in a row after O'Neal scored on a hook with 7:29 left, not scoring another field goal for the next 4:28.
Orlando was hurt the entire game by its lack of three-point shooting. The Magic for the game was 8-for-31 from beyond the arc, with Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott responsible for most of the misfiring. Anderson was four of 12 from beyond the arc (4-for-14 overall), and Scott was one of nine from three-point range (2-for-11 for the game).
The Rockets would lead by as many as six (96-90) after a three-pointer by Mario Elie with 3:15 left. But the Magic, behind O'Neal, would make one final run. O'Neal backed Olajuwon down in the post, and scored on a short hook shot, ending the long drought. Then O'Neal went to the line and made two free throws, pulling Orlando to within 96-94 with 2:36 left.
Five straight points by Drexler helped increase Houston's lead to 101-95, but Orlando came back again and was within 101-100 after a short jumper by Horace Grant with 35 seconds left.
But Horry ended any chance of the Magic getting back into the series, draining a three-pointer with 14 seconds left for a 104-100 lead and a 3-0 lead in the series.
Faced with the prospect of doing something that no team in NBA finals history has winning the title after dropping the first two games on their home court the Magic were a more focused team in the first half as they built leads as many as nine points. But the team faded at the end of the first half, failing to score a field goal in the final 4:45. And that allowed the Rockets to close with a
12-2 run and a 54-53 halftime lead.
It was clear early that the Magic was going to make Horry, who recorded an NBA finals record seven steals in Game 2, play defense at the start. And to do that the team got Grant involved in the offense.
Grant, who would hit five of six shots in the first quarter and scored 10 points, opened the game with a short baseline jumper. Grant hit five of Orlando's first six field goals, and his dunk with 6:28 left had the Magic ahead, 13-9.
Orlando distributed the ball well early. The Magic had 10 assists on its 12 first-quarter field goals.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were having their share of problems. Olajuwon, who has won his battle with O'Neal through the first two games, missed four of his first five shots and the Rockets opened the game missing eight of their first 12. But he did heat up, hitting three straight shots in just over two minutes, the last with 2:09 left pulling the Rockets to within 24-23. And even though Olajuwon would pick up his second foul with 1:22 left, Houston survived the early shooting woes and ended the quarter trailing, 30-28.
Houston would take a 40-39 lead with 7:39 left in the half after a three-pointer by Drexler. But the Rockets were forced to sacrifice part of their offense with Olajuwon's two fouls, with Charles Jones replacing Horry in the lineup to guard O'Neal.
And after Houston's brief lead the Magic went on a 12-2 run that was sparked by reserve guard Brian Shaw, who scored 12 points in the second quarter. After O'Neal's free throw with 4:19 left, the Magic had its biggest lead, 51-42.
But the Magic was unable to put the Rockets away, missing six field goals in a row the rest of the half.
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