For the Orlando Magic to close out their series with the Bulls in
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ For the Orlando Magic to close out their series with the Bulls in Chicago, they will need all the poise they can muster. If anyone can give it to them, Horace Grant can.
The veteran’s leadership is a principal reason Orlando has a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals and is in a position to win it Thursday.
Grant scored 24 points and had 11 rebounds Tuesday night in Orlando’s 103-95 win and is averaging 20.4 points and 12 rebounds in the series. Again and again, he has picked up his young teammates when they were on the verge on falling apart.
``I think he has been their MVP,″ Michael Jordan said of his former teammate. ``He gives them consistent play every game.″
When the Magic got off to a dreadful start Tuesday night, Grant was the one hitting his shots, because Chicago’s double teams on Shaquille O’Neal left him open.
And his maturity helped Orlando come back strong in the second half. The Magic controlled the tempo, beat the Bulls to loose balls and dominated the boards.
Grant was one of four Orlando starters to hit for 19 or more. O’Neal scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half and had 22 rebounds and five blocks. Dennis Scott scored 22 points and Anfernee Hardaway 19.
``It was a whole team effort,″ Grant said. ``It’s what we need to win a championship.″
The Bulls, meanwhile, got 39 from Jordan and not much from anybody else. During the series, a good game for Jordan has usually meant a poor one for his teammates.
This time, Scottie Pippen added just 10 and Toni Kukoc had another one of his off nights, scoring five. B.J. Armstrong had 18.
Leading 78-70 at the end of the third quarter, Orlando stretched the lead to 11 early in the final period. Jordan scored six straight points to cut it to 89-83 with 4:56 to play, but Chicago went almost three minutes without a field goal after his layup with 3:25 remaining.
``Momentum just seemed to keep building their direction,″ Bulls coach Phil Jackson said, ``and we just couldn’t seem to stop the momentum once it got going.″
Hardaway’s jam over center Bill Wennington gave Orlando a 95-85 lead at the 3:02 mark and took the last bit of wind out of the Bulls. Chicago called timeout, and Hardaway bounced back to the Magic bench pumping his fist in celebration.
It was a big turnaround from the first half, when the Magic missed layups, putbacks and open jumpers. O’Neal even botched a dunk, bouncing the ball off the rim and sending it bounding past midcourt.
Orlando misfired on its first nine shots of the game, then started the second quarter 2-for-15. O’Neal and Nick Anderson struggled the most, with O’Neal hitting only two of 12 field goal attempts and Anderson going 0-for-6.
``That was the first time in a long time that I was off,″ O’Neal said. ``I was trying to get to the line, and trying to get my game going and my free throws weren’t falling. I was really off.″
But he and his teammates showed remarkable composure in their second-half comeback, demonstrating that all the concern about their youthfulness may be overblown.
``This was a gut-check for them,″ Magic coach Brian Hill said.
While the Magic are in the postseason for just the second time in the franchise’s six-year history, Grant is in the playoffs for the eighth time.
When Grant, a free agent, left Chicago last season after playing on three championship teams, it was with more than a trace of hard feelings. But he’s said repeatedly he’s not putting any special emphasis on beating the Bulls. Pippen, his closest friend on that team, thinks otherwise.
``It looks pretty special,″ he said.