With sports hitting a grinding halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stealing the headlines in sports recently has been ESPN’s 10-part documentary series, “The Last Dance”.
The series highlights the 1990’s Chicago Bulls dynasty and their final title in 1998. During the decade, Chicago completed a pair of three-peats. The Bulls won the NBA Finals from 1991 to 1993 and then from 1996 to 1998.
The Bulls were coached by Phil Jackson and had one of the league’s best all-around players in forward Scottie Pippen, but guard Michael Jordan was the unquestioned face of the franchise. Following the first three-peat, Jordan retired for more than a season and a half before returning late during the 1994-95 season.
Over the years, there were significant moments and games between Chicago’s championship teams and the Orlando Magic. We began a six-part series by looking at Jordan’s best scoring efforts against the Magic. We now transition to the best performances by Orlando players against the Chicago dynasty:
5. Anfernee Hardaway (Nov. 14, 1995)
Score: Orlando 94, Chicago 88
Stat line: 36 points, 12-for-18 FGs, 4-for-7 3PT, 8-for-9 FTs, five rebounds, four steals
Overview: The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls won more games at the time than any team in NBA history. Their first loss during a season for the ages, however, came at the Orlando Arena against the Magic. With All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal out for the early parts of the season, guard Anfernee Hardaway willed the Magic to victory in an efficient 36-point effort. With the contest tied at 83 with less than two minutes away, A Dennis Scott three-point play and a Hardaway trey in back-to-back possessions put Orlando ahead for good.
4. Rony Seikaly (Nov. 5, 1997)
Score: Chicago 94, Orlando 81
Stat line: 34 points, 9-for-19 FGs, 16-for-18 FTs, 13 rebounds, two steals
Overview: The Orlando Magic weren’t much of a threat to the Chicago Bulls early in the 1997-98 season, but center Rony Seikaly had his highest scoring effort on the road as a member of the Magic. Seikaly finished with 34 points, including 17 in the third quarter, as Orlando cut a 20-point Chicago lead down to 12. That’s as interesting as it would get. The Magic managed just 15 points in the fourth quarter and shot just 34 percent for the contest.
3. Shaquille O’Neal (Jan. 16, 1993)
Score: Orlando 128, Chicago 124 (Overtime)
Stat line: 29 points, 11-for-18 FGs, 24 rebounds, five blocks
Overview: Michael Jordan may have stole the show with 64 points, but Shaquille O’Neal was pretty good as the Magic rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to top the Bulls in overtime at Chicago Stadium early in 1993. Then a rookie, O’Neal’s 24 rebounds at the time were a career-high.
Shaq had another 20-20 game against the Bulls in Game 5 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, where he had 23 points and 22 rebounds to help give the Magic a 3-2 series lead.
2. Shaquille O’Neal (Jan. 26, 1995)
Score: Orlando 102, Chicago 99
Stat line: 37 points, 13-for-22 FGs, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals
Overview: Michael Jordan was still retired in late-January 1995, but Shaquille O’Neal dominated for the Magic. Orlando trailed by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, but a tip-in by Donald Royal and a three-point play by O’Neal helped put the Bulls away.
Shaq’s highest scoring game against Jordan came in Game 2 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, where he had 36 points and 16 rebounds in a 93-88 loss.
1. Anfernee Hardaway (Feb. 26, 1995)
Score: Orlando 105, Chicago 103
Stat line: 39 points, 17-for-25 FGs, five rebounds, six assists, two steals
Overview: In what would be the final contest between Orlando and Chicago before Michael Jordan came out of retirement, it was Anfernee Hardaway who played the role of hero. With Shaquille O’Neal out for the Magic, Hardaway paced Orlando with 39 points. The Magic trailed by nine early in the fourth quarter and by five with less than two minutes to go. Orlando capped the game with a 7-0, headlined by Hardaway’s fast-break dunk for the game-winner with less than a second to play.
That topped Hardaway’s 38-point performance (15-for-21 FG) against the Bulls in Game 1 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, which came in a 121-83 loss.