The new-look Magic needed all three Wednesday night to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 93-92 on Francis’ game-winning layup with two-tenths of a second remaining.
Francis, acquired in an offseason trade, finished with 26 points. Hill added 20 in his return from a 21-month layoff due to injury. Top draft pick Howard had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
“I’ve hit some shots in my career, but I think this one is even more special being that this is my first official game for the organization,” said Francis, part of a seven-player swap that sent disgruntled star Tracy McGrady to Houston.
That trade highlighted the Magic’s massive overhaul during the summer as they try to shake off a horrendous 61-loss season. Orlando now has just four players remaining from April’s roster.
“The guys in the locker room now don’t have a reference point for what happened last year,” coach Johnny Davis said. “We don’t even talk about what happened last year. Last year is gone.”
The Bucks took a 92-91 lead on Michael Redd’s banked-in jumper with 3.5 seconds to play in their opener. Redd finished with 19 points.
On the final possession, Hill inbounded from the left side to Francis. He beat Mo Williams on the turn to the basket and got the shot off despite being fouled.
“I know I can get from one end of the court to the other in three seconds, so why can’t I get from the top of the key to the rim in three seconds?” said Francis, who also had nine rebounds and seven assists. “Pat Garrity set a great screen in getting me open, they all spread out and I was able to get the shot.”
Williams, who made his first career start, said: “He was three steps above the 3-point line, and it’s hard to contain a guy when they get a burst of speed from that high. I tried with the best of my ability but a great, great player made a great play and I didn’t.”
The buzzer sounded as the shot fell, and the Magic celebrated before racing off the court when they saw the officials consulting.
“I heard the horn go off, so as far as I was concerned the game was over,” Davis said.
After a three-minute review, the officials let the shot stand but reset the clock and brought the Magic back out for Francis’ free throw. Francis intentionally missed the foul shot, and time expired.
Orlando took a 15-point lead midway through the third quarter behind Hill and Howard. Hill began the period with three jumpers in four minutes, and Howard’s soaring windmill slam put the Magic ahead 66-53. Francis dunked a possession later.
Hill made 10 of 21 shots in his first regular-season action since Jan. 16, 2003. After sitting out last season following the fourth surgery on his left ankle, Hill was relieved to be critical of his game (four turnovers and only four rebounds) rather than his health.
“It was fun for me to be out there, fun for us to be out there and fun to get the win,” said Hill, who was playing in just his 48th game since joining the Magic before the 2000-01 season.
Howard went 6-for-11, and his athletic feats—flying slams, rebounds in traffic—repeatedly wowed the fans. But he missed all six of his foul shots, including two that would’ve broken an 85-all tie.
“I don’t think I was nervous that much, but was real hyped,” Howard said.
Added Davis: “When you think about a kid just coming out of high school who went to the prom four months ago, he’s doing a nice job.”
After falling behind, the Bucks clawed back, going up 85-81 with 6:27 remaining on four straight baskets. The teams then traded points until the end, with two ties and four lead changes before Francis’ last shot.
“They made some plays, we made some plays,” Milwaukee coach Terry Porter said. “And they made the last play.”
Milwaukee’s Desmond Mason needed five stitches on his scalp after Kelvin Cato elbowed him early in the fourth quarter. In the ensuing scuffle, Francis was called for a technical foul. … Needing a reserve point guard after Mike James’ rib injury, Milwaukee signed Anthony Goldwire. He didn’t play. … The Bucks opened on the road for the 20th straight year. Milwaukee last tipped off at home on Oct. 27, 1984, against Chicago—in Michael Jordan’s NBA debut. … In season openers, Orlando is 10-6. Milwaukee fell to 22-15. … Attendance was 15,138. Orlando hasn’t sold out a season opener since the 1998-99 lockout season.