Many Orlando Magic fans still rue the day that All-Star and Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal left the City Beautiful for the bright lights of Los Angeles.
On this day 25 years ago, however, it was the first-ever draft pick of the Magic that played the role of hero. In O’Neal’s return, Nick Anderson buried a late 3-pointer to lift Orlando to a thrilling 98-96 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
O’Neal was in his second season with the Lakers, but did not play in the trip to Orlando the year prior – a 110-84 victory for the Magic. As Los Angeles arrived at the Orlando Arena on Feb. 22, 1998, O’Neal made his presence felt.
O’Neal would lead the Lakers with 20 points and 10 rebounds and played a big role in a fourth-quarter run. The Magic led 81-71 early in the fourth quarter, but a 21-4 run in which O’Neal scored five points turned a 10-point deficit into a 7-point lead for Los Angeles.
The Magic bounced back from a lackluster start to the period with an 8-0 run. Horace Grant scored the first five points during the run before Anderson went 3-for-4 from the foul line to give Orlando a 93-92 lead. After O’Neal and Kobe Bryant each split a pair of free throws, the Lakers led 94-93 with just 12 seconds remaining.
To that point, Anderson had a game-high 27 points, but the most memorable points would be the final three. Off a screen, Anderson caught the pass from Derek Harper in stride. With L.A.’s Eddie Jones in his face, Anderson rose and buried the go-ahead trey with just 7.1 seconds remaining.
Jones would get a good look from deep of his own on the game’s final possession, but it was no good. O’Neal’s return to Orlando was spoiled as the Magic pulled out the victory.
Anderson’s 30 points led six Orlando players in double figures. Harper added 18 points and a game-high seven assists. Derek Strong and Danny Schayes each finished with 12 points. Bo Outlaw and Grant each scored 10 while adding 14 and 10 rebounds, respectively. Outlaw also blocked five shots.
In addition to O’Neal’s double-double, Jones finished with 19 points in the loss. Bryant and Rick Fox added 18 and 15 points, respectively, for the Lakers.
The big day served as Anderson’s second straight 30-point game and fourth straight game with at least 28 points. His late 3-pointer remains one of the most memorable moments from a career that had many big ones for the Magic. It came on this day a quarter-century ago.