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25-year Orlandoversary: Nick strips Jordan

“Nick Anderson stole the ball! Nick Anderson stole the ball from Michael Jordan!’’

1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Game 1: Chicago Bulls vs. Orlando Magic Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

25 years and it remains arguably the greatest moment in Orlando Magic history. It happened on this day.

The Magic were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and were coming off the first series win in franchise history. Orlando had defeated Boston in four games as it got set to host Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 7, 1995.

Jordan had retired after winning a third straight title and NBA Finals MVP in 1993. After a year of playing baseball, he returned to Chicago late in the 1994-95 NBA season. The Bulls were the No. 5 seed in the East that season, but had just beat the Charlotte Hornets in a series where Jordan had averaged better than 32 points per game.

In Game 1 at the Orlando Arena, Jordan came on late, but a costly turnover in the game’s final seconds would prove detrimental to Chicago. A strip of Jordan by Magic guard Nick Anderson would lead to the Horace Grant dunk that put Orlando ahead for good in a thrilling 94-91 victory.

The contest was competitive for most of the afternoon. Things were even, 43-43, at halftime, but the Magic took a 69-65 lead into the final quarter. Orlando would enjoy its biggest lead of the day, 73-65, more than a minute into the fourth period.

Chicago used a 15-5 run to take an 80-78 lead. From there, the contest went back-and-forth.

The Bulls led 89-88 with 49 seconds left when Orlando All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal drew a foul. Known for being a poor foul shooter, O’Neal calmly knocked down both free throws to put the Magic back in front.

That lead would be short-lived as Chicago went back in front on an alley-oop to Scottie Pippen. The Magic turned the ball over on their next possession and with time ticking away, it looked as though they would have to foul.

Jordan dribbled across half-court and looked over his shoulder, but never saw Anderson. Anderson was able to come from the other side and knock the ball from Jordan and into the hands of Orlando guard Anfernee Hardaway.

With a 2-on-1 break, Hardaway found forward and longtime Chicago Bull, Horace Grant, for the dunk that put the Magic ahead for good with 6.2 seconds left, 92-91.

On the ensuing Chicago possession, Jordan was able to get into the lane, but instead of shooting the go-ahead jumper, he looked for a cutting Pippen. The pass was behind Jordan’s All-Star teammate and out of bounds for a turnover.

Hardaway knocked down two free throws with less than a second to play to push the lead to three. The Bulls’ final inbounds pass was knocked away as time expired.

O’Neal finished with a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds during an ultra-efficient afternoon. O’Neal shot 7-for-11 from the field and 12 of 16 from the free throw line. Despite O’Neal’s outstanding day, it was Anderson who was the hero. He finished with 20 points in the victory.

Jordan overcame a rough shooting start to lead the Bulls with 19 points. Toni Kukoc added 17 points in the loss. Pippen was held to seven points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Grant and Hardaway each finished with 16 points for the Magic in the win. Dennis Scott added 14 points in the victory.

Jordan would atone with 38 points in a Game 2 victory for Chicago, but the Game 1 win would loom large as the Magic won the series in six games. The moment that will always stand out from that series, especially to Magic fans, will be Anderson’s strip of Jordan. It happened on this day a quarter-century ago.