Houston Rockets: Mario Elie’s ‘Kiss of Death,’ the best clutch shot ever

Houston Rockets guard Mario Elie (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mario Elie
Houston Rockets guard Mario Elie (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mario Elie /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets vs. Phoenix Suns (Photo credit should read PAUL GERO/AFP via Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns: The grittiest of foes

Once upon, the Phoenix Suns had an opportunity to be a great franchise from their early days. They were one of two teams along with the Milwaukee Bucks that were vying for the top pick in the 1968 NBA Draft. The prize that year? A talented center from UCLA named Lew Alcindor, who would later be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It all came down to a coin toss on the phone.

The Suns called heads.

The coin came up tails.

With that, the first message of heartbreak was dealt toward Phoenix. Mind you, they would have a bright spot in 1976 where they would take on the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. In a series best remembered for the epic triple-overtime Game 5 that Boston won, the Suns lost in six games. Times were tough for Phoenix in the eighties as they would often have playoff clashes with the Showtime Lakers only to beat them one time in the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals.

While Phoenix might’ve had problems beating the Lakers and other Western Conference foes, they were building a strong contender. Under the guidance of former Suns player Paul Westphal as head coach, the Suns had incredible players loaded onto their team.

They drafted Dan Majerle, a pick that wasn’t well-received at first. They would make a trade for Kevin Johnson and Mark West in 1988 from the Cleveland Cavaliers. They also would acquire free agent Danny Ainge, a former Celtic great that won two titles in green.

But the biggest splash for them came prior to the 92-93 season when would acquire Charles Barkley, the former talented 76er who had recently gotten into conflicts in Philadelphia and was coming off an Olympic gold medal as part of the famed Dream Team in 1992. Together, the Suns were determined to give their city their first championship, which was something Houston was looking for as well.

Before we progress with Phoenix, we need to explain the Western Conference in the ’90s. Much like Will Smith’s epic “blockbuster” of a hit, it was the Wild, Wild West. Every team had just as great of a chance to win the championship.

  • The Los Angeles Lakers started on the decline after 1991’s finals appearance with Magic’s sudden retirement. But they would bounce back in the mid-’90s to eventually become a dynasty in the 21st century.
  • The Portland Trailblazers were a strong foe in the early ’90s, but then fell off the map only to be rewritten as the team who collapsed in 1999 and 2000.
  • The Seattle Supersonics were a thorn in Houston’s side, yet they were stunned in an upset loss to Denver in a year where they could’ve won it all in 1994. Not even losses in 1995, 1996 and 1997 did enough to win titles.
  • The Utah Jazz had the Stockton-to-Malone tandem that would take years to reach the finals. When they did get there, they just ran into the wrong team and the wrong player.
  • The San Antonio Spurs had David Robinson as one tower but needed another tower to claim their first title, despite it being in a shortened season.
  • The Houston Rockets had the Dream and a team that would peak and capitalize on their Finals opportunity. Despite claims by others, the Houston Rockets were the kryptonite to one.

While the Eastern Conference also had great teams like the Knicks, the Pacers, the Heat, and the Magic to a degree, the prize for the Western Conference was simple: a confrontation with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

Finishing with the best record and possessing the league MVP in Barkley, Phoenix would get their chance in 1993. Trailing two games to none, it took another triple-overtime game for which they would partake in to get them back in the series. The Suns won another game to trail 3-2 heading back to Phoenix. The Suns had the game in the bag until they would suffer a heartbreaking loss.

If the Suns had won Game 6, they might’ve won Game 7. But the truth was, the Suns came up short.

Which brings us to 1994. The Houston Rockets and the Suns were about to meet in a pair of confrontations to determine the outcome of the series. The Suns were looking for redemption while the Houston Rockets were looking for opportunity.