The first two trips to the postseason for the Orlando Magic unfortunately ended in sweeps.
After making their first playoff appearance during the 1993-94 season, the Magic were swept in the first round by the Indiana Pacers in three games. The next year, Orlando went all the way to the NBA Finals, but were swept in four games by the Houston Rockets.
On this day 25 years ago, the Magic finally got to do the sweeping. Orlando closed out the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the playoffs with a 101-98 victory.
The first two games of the best-of-five series in Orlando weren’t close. The Magic won by 20 and 15 over Detroit, but it was a different story as the series shifted to the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 30, 1996.
For a large portion of the night, it looked as though it might be much of the same. The Magic led by nine after one and by 11 after three quarters, but with pride and their season on the line, the Pistons made things interesting.
Down 81-70 to start the final period, Detroit would have to finish without head coach Doug Collins who had been ejected late in the third. The combination of Allan Houston and Grant Hill got the Pistons going.
Detroit was able to whittle away at the lead, eventually drawing to within two on a three-point play by Hill with just 36 seconds remaining. It appeared as though Detroit had got the stop it needed on the other end as Anfernee Hardaway hoisted one toward the rim for Orlando with the shot clock winding down.
It was unclear whether the ball touched the rim, but officials ruled it did and Horace Grant was able to put it back in for Orlando to push the lead to 99-95 with just 11 seconds remaining. Houston answered for Detroit with a three-pointer on the other end to cap a 33-point night, but his tying three-point attempt, following a pair of free throws from Orlando’s Nick Anderson, was no good.
Houston led all scorers while Hill added 17 points in the loss. Joe Dumars and Otis Thorpe each tallied 15 points in the loss. Thorpe grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds.
It was a balanced effort for the Magic, who had all five starters score in double figures.
Hardaway led the way with 24 points with 16 of those coming during a big third quarter. Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott tallied 22 and 18 points, respectively, while combining to make five of Orlando’s seven three-pointers. Shaquille O’Neal had an uncharacteristically bad shooting night, finishing with 13 points on 4-for-13 from the field.
The Magic would go on to beat the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before getting swept for the third straight year – this time by the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Since the 1995-96 season, Orlando has completed two sweeps. The first and only three-game sweep for the Magic however, wrapped up on this day a quarter-century ago.