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25-year Orlandoversary: Magic rally to eliminate Bulls, advance to East Finals

1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 6: Orlando Magic vs. Chicago Bulls Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

As most are aware and many were recently reminded, the Chicago Bulls were the NBA’s team of the 1990s.

Led by Michael Jordan, the Bulls won six NBA titles in an eight-season period. Chicago three-peated twice from 1991 to 1993 and then from 1996 to 1998. Jordan was retired for the 1993-94 season before returning during the 1994-95 season.

The 1994-95 campaign would be the final season for Jordan as a member of the Bulls that he didn’t win a championship. Chicago was eliminated by the Orlando Magic on this day 25 years ago.

The Magic took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals into the United Center on May 18, 1995. The Bulls led by eight with less than three and a half minutes to play, but Orlando scored the game’s final 14 points to eliminate Chicago, 108-102.

Orlando led 63-61 at the break and by two after three quarters, but midway through the final period, a Game 7 back in Orlando seemed inevitable. During a flurry of Magic turnovers, the Bulls used an 11-2 run to take a 102-94 lead with less than three minutes to play.

With Orlando All-Star guard Anfernee Hardaway and starting forward Horace Grant on the bench for much of the final minutes, the Magic closed the game on a run for the ages.

Orlando center Shaquille O’Neal for the run started with a jump-hook in the lane. On the ensuing possession, Chicago native and Game 1 hero Nick Anderson used a head fake to get an open three-pointer and cut the lead in half. With 80 seconds to go, reserve guard Brian Shaw drew a close blocking foul on Chicago forward Scottie Pippen and canned a pair of free throws.

After Jordan air-balled a fade-away jumper with just over a minute to play, Anderson put the Magic ahead for good, 103-102, with a contested step-back jump shot over the taller Toni Kukoc. Center Luc Longley looked to have a wide open layup after a feed from Jordan on the ensuing Bulls’ possession, but Shaw was able to get enough of the ball to disrupt the shot.

Dennis Scott split a pair of free throws with 29 seconds to go to double the Orlando lead to two. With Chicago having the chance to tie or take the lead, the Magic collapsed on Jordan, who was caught in midair and turned the ball over. With 12.8 seconds left, Hardaway knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 106-102.

Bulls’ guard B.J. Armstrong, who had hit a three-pointer to push the lead to eight just three minutes prior, missed an open trey for Chicago and O’Neal put the exclamation point on the win with a fast-break dunk. As the Bulls failed to score over the final 3:24, Magic players lifted a familiar face to Chicago fans, forward Horace Grant, on their collective shoulders to celebrate a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Grant had spent seven years in Chicago, won three championships and was an All-Star during the 1993-94 season before signing with the Magic in the offseason. Grant and the Bulls had a bitter departure and he was able to help Orlando past his former team in his first season in Central Florida.

O’Neal paced the Magic in the win with 27 points, 13 rebounds and four steals. Hardaway and Scott each added 21. Anderson came up big down the stretch, finishing with 18 points. As a team, Orlando shot 12-for-24 from deep with Anderson, Hardaway and Scott each knocking down four triples.

Pippen paced the Bulls with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Jordan added 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Kukoc and Armstrong tallied 15 and 14 points, respectively.

The Magic would go on to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Jordan’s Bulls would never lose another playoff series. Chicago went on to win each of the next three championships. Its last time being eliminated with Jordan and Pippen on the roster and Phil Jackson on the sidelines was on this day a quarter-century ago.