Orlando Magic forward Dennis Scott, known as 3-D to his
teammates because of his three-point shooting skill, is a
leading authority on the subject of the jump shot. There are
precious few questions on the topic that catch him off guard,
but he was faced with one after he had made seven of 15 treys to
help the Magic shoot down the Indiana Pacers 119-114 in Game 2
of their Eastern Conference finals playoff series last week. Was
it true, reporters wanted to know, that a shooting tip from
Orlando center and renowned free throw clanker Shaquille O'Neal
had really helped Scott shake out of a brief shooting slump, as
O'Neal had suggested?
Scott paused a moment and then chose to go along with O'Neal
perhaps because Shaq is one of his best friends or maybe because
he wisely decided that it's a good rule of thumb to agree with
someone who is 7'1" and 305 pounds, especially when he is
sitting at the next locker. ``Oh, yeah, Shaq gives me tips all
the time,'' Scott said. ``He helps me with my jump shot, and I
help him with his foul shooting.''
Though you may be skeptical about whether O'Neal really has a
future as a shot doctor, it's hard to blame him for wanting to
get in on the shooting discussion since everyone else in the
series was talking about jump shots, particularly those of the
long-range variety. The first three games made it clear that the
Magic and the Pacers were engaged in a shooters' series, but if
there was any lingering doubt, it was erased in Monday's Game 4,
the ending of which should have been played in the OK Corral.
The two teams put on as memorable a duel of clutch outside
shooting as the playoffs have ever produced, with three
three-pointers and a buzzer-beating two-pointer, by Indiana
center Rik Smits, in the final 13.3 seconds of Indiana's 94-93
win that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2. Smits's
15-footer seemed almost ho-hum compared with the bombs that
preceded it -- by, in order, Orlando guard Brian Shaw, Indiana
guard Reggie Miller and Orlando guard Penny Hardaway -- but when
you're 7'4", a 15-footer is a bomb.
The Game 4 ending was in keeping with the pattern of the series,
in which both teams lived and died by the jumper. When the
Magic's outside marksmen -- notably Scott, Hardaway and guard
Nick Anderson -- were on target in the first two games, at the
Orlando Arena, they provided a perfect complement to O'Neal's
inside domination, and the Magic looked nearly unbeatable in
taking a 2-0 lead. ``If they continue to shoot like that,'' said
Indiana coach Larry Brown before returning to Indianapolis's
Market Square Arena for Games 3 and 4, ``they'll win the
championship. It's that simple.'' But when Orlando cooled off
from the perimeter late in Saturday's Game 3, the Pacers were
able to climb back into the series with a 105-100 win.
Of course, Indiana has its own outside threat in Miller, the
master of the dagger-in-the-heart three-pointer. Miller didn't
have any dramatic threes in the first three games, but his mere
presence beyond the three-point line was a constant concern to
the Magic -- and to their fans. When Miller went up for a
meaningless three-point attempt at the buzzer in the Magic's
119-114 Game 2 win, there was an ``Oh, no'' gasp from the
crowd, as if the fans thought for a moment that he could somehow
make a five-pointer. ``The first thing you do when Indiana gets
the ball is find Reggie,'' Anderson said after Game 3. ``It
seems like one team or the other is making big threes at the end
of every game, and we all know that's Reggie's thing.''
But early in the series Scott did his thing more effectively
than Miller did. Scott is diligent in the care and feeding of
his shot. He has been known to stay up late with it when it is
sick, as he did past midnight of the night before Game 1, when
he fired away on a little court near his house in the glow of a
single streetlight. And he often gets up early with it, taking
the court hours before a game to work on his mechanics. ``I just
work up a little sweat,'' he says. ``As soon as it starts to
feel good, I stop. I don't want to use up all my jumpers too
Scott works so hard to keep his jumper sharp because he realizes
that it is what he calls his ``bread and butter,'' the skill
that brought him back into Magic coach Brian Hill's good graces
after early-season injuries and being overweight had sharply
diminished his playing time. 3-D's game is fairly
one-dimensional -- defense and rebounding have never been his
strong suits -- which is why he was largely a forgotten man
until he came off the bench to score 23 points, while canning
seven of 11 three-point shots, against the Phoenix Suns in
January. Even now his future in Orlando is uncertain. Scott will
probably become an unrestricted free agent after the playoffs
since it is highly unlikely that the Magic will make the $4
million qualifying offer (a condition written into Scott's
contract) necessary to keep him from becoming one.
None of that is on Scott's mind when there is an open jumper to
be taken. ``Nothing interferes with my shooting,'' he says.
``The one thing that I really can't stand is missing an open
jump shot. If I get a good look at the basket, I feel I should
hit the shot every time.''
He was nearly that flawless in the first two games of the
series. Scott helped the Magic erase an early 18-point deficit
in Game 1 by hitting three consecutive treys, and he finished
with 19 points (including five of 11 three-pointers) as the
Magic won 105-101. In Game 2 he was part of a Magic attack that
was frightening in its efficiency. O'Neal made quick work of
Smits, who couldn't stay out of foul trouble long enough to put
up much of a fight. But the Pacers might have survived O'Neal's
39-point, 10-rebound effort if they had been able to contain the
Magic's perimeter people. Arrayed around O'Neal like spokes on
a wheel, Scott, Anderson and Hardaway went 12 for 26 from
three-point range and combined for 61 points. ``Coach, maybe we
should let Shaq get 50 and stop everybody else,'' Miller said to
Brown before Game 3.
Fortunately for Indiana, it didn't come to that. Foul trouble
did what Smits couldn't -- it contained O'Neal. He finished with
18 points in just 30 minutes, and thanks to exceptional interior
defense from Indiana forward Antonio Davis (Smits was again
dealing with foul problems of his own), O'Neal wasn't much of a
fourth-quarter factor, with just five points.
It was the closest the Pacers had come to playing the kind of
defense that ranked them fourth in the league during the regular
season. Still, it was outside shooting that ultimately tipped
the scales in the Pacers' favor. Miller had three treys, and
forward Derrick McKey added two more. Meanwhile, the jumpers
that the Magic marksmen had been draining earlier didn't fall
down the stretch. The wide-open three that Scott missed with
27.6 seconds remaining and the Magic behind by three was
symbolic of Orlando's late-game frustration.
But frustration doesn't last long with the Magic these days.
Having answered most of the questions about their ability to
handle postseason pressure, the Orlando players are a confident,
almost carefree bunch. No one fits that description better than
O'Neal. He showed up for Game 2 having shaved his head and his
Fu Manchu mustache, which his teammates took as a good sign.
``He's more intimidating when he's got that big, shiny, bald
head,'' says Scott. ``When I saw him, I said, `Oh! My Shaq is
Actually, O'Neal was probably getting in character for the movie
he will film in August, Kazaam, which sounds like what might
have happened if Snoop Doggy Dogg had starred in I Dream of
Jeannie. O'Neal will play, according to a press release, ``a
rapping genie with an attitude who must grant three wishes to a
troubled 12-year-old boy.'' But last week O'Neal was focused on
the Magic's wish for a championship, a prospect that may not
have been realistic until Orlando eliminated the Chicago Bulls
in the Eastern semifinals. ``To tell you the truth, I didn't
really think we would beat the Bulls,'' says forward Horace
Grant, who was instrumental in disposing of his former team.
``But once we did, I figured the sky's the limit.''
After Game 2 with Indiana, O'Neal pointed to a placard on the
wall of the Magic locker room that read WHY NOT US . . . WHY NOT
NOW? It was a message from team owner Rich DeVos, one of the
founders of the Amway Corporation. ``You see that sign?''
O'Neal said. ``That's how we look at it. If we do all the right
things, we can win it this year. Then I can retire at age 23. I
can lean back and chill.''
Even losing out to San Antonio Spur center David Robinson for
the Most Valuable Player award failed to rankle O'Neal, at least
outwardly. ``They'll have to give it to me someday,'' he said.
But O'Neal isn't as dispassionate as he may seem. He has several
small newspaper clippings pinned to his locker in Orlando,
including one with a year-old quote from Charlotte Hornet coach
Allan Bristow saying he didn't think O'Neal had shown much
improvement. Part of what drives Shaq is the desire to hold up a
championship ring as the ultimate response to those who have
criticized him during his three years in the league.
Perhaps O'Neal will one day be able to show off such a ring to a
group of young teammates, the way Grant did during the regular
season. Grant broke out the second of the three rings he earned
with the Bulls. ``I just wanted the players to see it, to touch
it,'' Grant said. ``If we get much closer, I might have to do it
again, just for some extra inspiration.''
Grant has already inspired the city of Orlando, most of the
populace of which seems to be walking around in replicas of his
blue-frame goggles. He has become so popular that at a recent
charity raffle the winner was given a choice of a jersey
autographed by Michael Jordan, O'Neal or Grant, and he chose
After their weekend in Indianapolis, the Magic players were
looking forward to again donning their home jerseys for
Wednesday's Game 5, if only to get away from the irritating
recorded drone of race car engines the Pacers insist on playing
all too often in Market Square Arena. Orlando felt secure in the
knowledge that it has been close to invulnerable at home, with
only three losses in the regular season and the playoffs
combined. But the Pacers had the comfort of leaning on Miller,
who often seems to shine on the road in the postseason.
And after seeing improbable comebacks from every angle in the
past two postseasons, the Pacers also knew they would not be
easily buried by Orlando. Indiana stole Game 1 of its Eastern
semis against the New York Knicks by erasing a six-point deficit
in the last 16.4 seconds, and last season it dug its way out of
a 2-0 series hole against the Knicks to send the Eastern finals
to a seventh game. The Pacers also have been on the other end,
nearly blowing a 3-1 lead in this year's Knick series before
winning Game 7. ``After what's happened, the one thing you'll
never see us do is give up or relax in a game or a series,
whether we're ahead or behind,'' Miller says.
One of the Pacers' main concerns was keeping Smits out of foul
trouble. After seven seasons Smits apparently still hasn't
learned that he's too important to his team to pick up silly
touch fouls. He can score against any center in the league --
but not when he's sitting next to Brown on the sideline.
But as the series headed back to Orlando, both teams seemed to
sense that this shooters' showdown could turn on how well the
Pacers could limit the Magic's productivity from the outside and
on whether Miller could shake loose for one of his signature,
bombs-away games. As impressive as some of the shooting had
already been, there was the feeling that both teams were just
getting ready to take their best shot.