3rd Greatest Player
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Land of 3 NBA titles
Re: 1994-95 Houston Rockets - Biggest underdog victory in history
Indeed, as the Finals began, there was some sentiment that while Houston had paid its dues, the Magic hadn't. Many felt that Orlando simply hadn't suffered enough, hitting the draft lottery jackpot in consecutive years and vaulting to a place among the elite. Led by 23-year-old Shaquille O'Neal and 22-year-old Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, there seemed little doubt that Orlando was one of the NBA's teams of the future. But of the present?
There was no doubting Orlando's impressive starting five. O'Neal led the league in scoring and was being compared to Wilt Chamberlain as a physical force, which is the ultimate compliment. Hardaway was a model big point guard who could drive, post up, or shoot from outside. Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott provided dangerous outside shooting. And in the offseason the Magic had signed power forward Horace Grant, whose rebounding, defensive skills and timely scoring had helped the Chicago Bulls to three championship rings.
The Magic came out on fire in Game 1 and brought the crowd at Orlando Arena to a frenzy by building a lead of as many as 20 points in the second quarter. Hardaway was the catalyst, scoring with every weapon in his arsenal, but the playoff-tested Rockets refused to cave in. They cut the gap to 11 at halftime, then Smith nailed a Finals-record five treys in the third quarter as the Rockets outscored Orlando 37-19 to lead 87-80 going into the fourth quarter.
Next it was Orlando's turn to come back, and by the final minute the Magic were nursing a three-point lead. That's when Anderson left the door open for Houston by missing four consecutive free throws that could have all but clinched victory-two with 10.5 seconds remaining and two more after grabbing the offensive rebound.
"When you get to that point in a close game," said Magic coach Brian Hill, "all the little things jump up and bite you, and tonight for us it was free-throw shooting. We let one get away from us tonight. But you have to give Houston a lot of credit. They played a great second half and really made some big shots."
None was bigger than Smith's seventh three-pointer of the game, another Finals record. It came with 1.6 seconds left and sent the game into overtime at 110-110.
After Scott's trey with 5.5 seconds remaining knotted the score at 118-118, Drexler drove down the lane. O'Neal moved over and forced Drexler to lay the ball high off the backboard, but that opened the way for Olajuwon to get an inside position for a tip-in with :00.3 on the clock that brought a stunned hush to the O-rena.
The two teams of mad bombers obliterated all Finals three-point marks. The combined 25 made and 62 attempted three-pointers shattered the old records of 14 made and 37 attempted, while Houston's 14-for-32 shooting from the arc broke the single-team records of 10 made and 22 attempted.
The three-point shooting overshadowed some solid all-around games. For Orlando, O'Neal had 26 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists; Hardaway finished with 26 points; and Horace Grant had a solid 15 points and 16 rebounds. For Houston, Drexler matched Smith's 23 points and also had a team-high 11 rebounds in a strong performance, while Robert Horry came up big with 19 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
The Magic came out flat in Game 2, fell behind by 22 points at halftime and never recovered as Houston posted a 117-106 victory. It was the Rockets' seventh straight road win, breaking the record of six in one NBA playoff series set by Chicago in 1991, and Houston's ninth playoff road win overall, breaking the record of eight set by the 1981 Rockets.
The loss left the Magic in a deep hole. That hole became a crater two nights later in Houston when Horry's three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining nailed down a 106-103 victory for the Rockets in Game 3. Olajuwon had 31 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs, while Drexler had 25 points and 13 rebounds. They each had seven assists as well.
"I've said from the beginning that Hakeem is great and Hakeem carries their team," said Hill. "But right now their team is getting its energy from Clyde Drexler. Clyde is huge. And he has his mind made up that they are not going to lose."
Horry continued his fine all-around play with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Elie came through with 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field.
Three nights later in Game 4, with Elie keying an 11-2 fourth-quarter run, Houston pulled away from Orlando for a 113-101 victory and a series sweep. Just before the fireworks went off and the confetti fell from the ceiling at the Summit, Olajuwon closed out the scoring by uncharacteristically hitting a three-pointer from the right corner. He finished with 35 points and 15 rebounds and was unanimously voted NBA Finals MVP for the second year in a row, joining Michael Jordan as the only players ever to win the honor in consecutive years.
Asked whether the playoffs represented the best basketball of his career, Olajuwon typically turned the focus away from himself and onto his team.
"Yes, I agree, but I think it was because of this team, the style of play. We're playing team basketball, aggressive defense, hitting more outside shots which opened the floor and gave me more room to operate inside. And also, we played with more experience after what we had done last year."