What If? Series: 1995 Orlando Magic vs. San Antonio Spurs

Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal and San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson were two of the best centers in the league in the mid-1990s. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal and San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson were two of the best centers in the league in the mid-1990s. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets
Orlando Magic center Shaquille O’Neal dominated the 1995 Playoffs, becoming the champion who would dominate the league for a decade. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images) /

What Really Happened — Everyone runs into the Rockets

The Orlando Magic were a tour de force through the regular season, winning 57 games and tearing through the league.

Shaquille O’Neal was a monster on the inside — athletic, agile and powerful. Teams could not match up to his size or speed. And he was unstoppable once he got two feet in the paint.

Adding Anfernee Hardaway only made the team more difficult to handle. Now they had a player on the perimeter who could create for himself and spell O’Neal late in games when free throws became an issue.

The Magic surrounded him with a tough-minded power forward in Horace Grant to give the team some championship grit. And Orlando added 3-point shooting everywhere else to spread the floor.

Orlando had the best offense in the league that year, scoring 115.1 points per 100 possessions. The team was young and brash. Everyone thought there were titles in this young team’s future. Nobody thought it would be so soon.

But after dispatching the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers, another of those contenders who tried to squeeze through the interregnum window, the Magic’s time seemed to be now.

Then they ran into the Rockets. Magic fans know the rest of the story.

Four missed free throws and an overtime loss pierced their impenetrable confidence and the young team started to look young again. They were not ready. The “Heart of a Champion” and all of that.

The Spurs could relate. This too was supposed to be their time. They had paid their dues and put in the work in the regular season to get every advantage. They just had to climb over the defending champions.

That proved to be difficult, but not impossible.

Related Story. How to learn more about the 1995 Orlando Magic. light

The 1995 Western Conference Finals was a bizarre battle that saw the road team win the first five games of the series. They were all still fairly close. And Robinson and Olajuwon had a battle for the ages.

Robinson averaged 23.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in the series. He acquitted himself well.

But Olajuwon was sublime. He averaged 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. The Spurs’ decision to single cover Olajuwon with Robinson proved to be a poor one at the end of the day.

San Antonio, afraid of Houston’s shooting, had Robinson go one on one with Olajuwon. This was a true one-on-one matchup and Olajuwon won the battle. This was the story of Robinson’s career, it seemed, until Duncan arrived.

But this series was really nip-and-tuck. The Spurs responded with a 107-102 win despite Olajuwon’s 43 points in Game 3 and then a blowout win in Game 4.

Then Rodman happened. He was late arriving to the arena before Game 5 and was demoted to the bench for it. Houston won 111-90 and then clinched a second straight Finals trip in Game 6.

The Spurs’ shooting ran out in the series, making just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc. Person struggled especially off the bench, scoring just 4.2 points per game. Without that, the Spurs lacked the additional scoring punch.

The series, like the entire 1995 Playoffs, was really about Olajuwon. He was individually brilliant and nobody, not even the two best centers in the league (three if we count Patrick Ewing in 1994) could stop him from getting his title.