Everything that made Orlando seem so magical at home was nowhere to be found once Shaquille O'Neal and his buddies stepped into noisy Market Square Arena.
O'Neal got in foul trouble and scored just 18 points. The dead-eye perimeter shooting of Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson failed them. Even the composure that helped them win the first two close games of the Eastern Conference finals deserted them in Saturday's 105-100 loss, rattled loose by the Indiana Pacers' relentless defense.The Pacers shut down the Magic in the fourth quarter and can tie the best-of-7 series with another win Monday at Market Square Arena, where the Magic have lost seven straight.
"Any time Shaquille is on the floor for 30 minutes, we're in trouble," Magic coach Brian Hill said.
After dominating the Pacers in the first two games with great shooting and strong performances from O'Neal, the Magic could rely on neither aspect of their game. Indiana defended the post and the perimeter better, as well as controlling the boards, 38-26.
"We were playing their style in Game 1 and Game 2," said Reggie Miller, who led the Pacers with 26 points. "We did a good job in the second half of getting to their shooters and keeping Shaq from getting down low."
After scoring 71 points on 70 percent shooting in the first two games, O'Neal was 8-for-15 from the field. More important, he picked up his fourth foul early in the third and spent a lot more time on the bench than he's used to.
"I didn't even break a sweat," he said.
"We bothered him a little more," said forward Dale Davis, who along with Antonio Davis assumed the bulk of defensive duty when Rik Smits got into foul trouble. "We got him off the block some. That made it a little tougher on him, and we tried to double on him more."
The Magic still hit 13 3-pointers, giving them 36 for the series, but their shooters sputtered in the fourth when Orlando missed 15 of 22 field goal attempts.
The Pacers were clinging to a two-point lead with little over a minute left when Orlando was called for an illegal defense, its third of the game. Miller hit the technical, and Derrick McKey, who had 14 of his 22 points in the second half, added an 18-footer from the baseline with 54 seconds left.
Until Anfernee Hardaway, who had 29 points, hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, the Magic had scored just 15 points in the final period. That shot cut Indiana's lead to 102-98, and Hardaway and Scott both put up air balls from behind the arc in the waning seconds.
Scott missed 10 of his 15 shots but still had 15 points, and Anderson was 4-of-10 for 10 points.
"We held them to one shot down the stretch and that was a big difference," Pacers coach Larry Brown said. "Our post defense was better today, and therefore our perimeter defense was better."
Meanwhile, the Pacers hit seven of eight free throws in the last 30 seconds to seal the victory. Indiana had 41 free throw attempts, making 33.
"That's a big stat in a close basketball game," said Hill, whose team was 15-of-20 from the foul line.
Even Horace Grant, the Magic's veteran forward who had been so steady throughout the playoffs, was off, getting just two rebounds.
Forcing the Magic into more of a halfcourt game helped the Pacers, and that's how Miller wants to see his team play the rest of the series.
"We can't play their tempo and beat them," he said. "We can't get caught up in fast-break basketball. Defense is going to allow us to win this series."
The Pacers led by two entering the final period and increased their lead to six on McKey's 3-pointer with 9:04 to play before Orlando answered with a basket by O'Neal and a 3-pointer by Scott. That was the last field goal for the Magic for five minutes.
During that drought, O'Neal missed two inside shots.
"We were missing baskets at the wrong time," Hardaway said. "We were missing open shots. It was the breaks we didn't get, and the breaks they did get."
Smits ended up in foul trouble like O'Neal, sitting out more than 61/2 minutes of the final period. Smits finished with 19 points in 29 minutes.