Digging into the aftermath
When Game 2 started, the Rockets were would find themselves up 28-19 in the first quarter. But Orlando, who all playoffs long overachieved, showed inconsistency and inexperience at the worst time. Houston would up their lead to 63-41 at the break.
Orlando would try to mount a comeback as they win both the third and fourth quarters. While Hakeem Olajuwon would have a strong performance with 34 points, it was Sam Cassell who stole the show. Scoring 31 points off the bench, Cassell would join Drexler and Olajuwon as the only Rocket players with 20+ points in the game. When the game was over, Houston had won 117-106 forcing Orlando in a 2-0 hole. This wasn’t supposed to happen to Orlando. In the land of fairytales, where was the magic?
Before any fairy godmother could turn the Rockets back into pumpkins, if was off to Houston for both teams. Prior to Game 3, the Rockets decided to have a little fun with the Magic.
Well, aside from that and an appearance from Tom Hanks at halftime, who was promoting his new movie Apollo 13 that summer, the Rockets had to overcome a slow start. But, Houston would manage to retake the lead at the break. What people tend to forget about Game 3 was that it was a close and hard-fought contest. By the end of the third quarter, the score was tied at 75.
The final twelve minutes would be a tight game as Houston would try to hold off some late Magic rallies. Up 101-100, they gave the ball to a soon-to-be legend — and clutch shooting specialist — in Robert Horry.
Orlando would hit a three to cut the lead to one before the Rockets extended their lead to 106-103. Orlando had a chance to tie it only for Penny Hardaway’s shot to miss and Houston had a stranglehold on the series.
Despite the narrative being the series was over and the brooms being brought out, Orlando refused to go down quietly as they would hang tough with the Rockets for the first three quarters. Eventually though, with the Rockets’ train still rolling, it wasn’t long before they would take over and never return. Houston pulled away to finish off the Magic with this iconic dream three.
With that, the run to the title was over and Clutch City was Clutch City once again. The Rockets made history by being back-to-back champions joining the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, and Pistons as repeat titleholders at the time. Hakeem Olajuwon out dueled Shaquille O’Neal 32.0 ppg-28.0 ppg to win his second straight finals MVP and of course, we had the iconic quote of all quotes.
This series would not only see the Rockets as a respected franchise, but it would also see the downfall of the Orlando Magic. Like Cinderella, their time in the spotlight was over and they never went back to the ball. They reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 1996 only to be swept by the 72-win Bulls, who went on to another three-peat run.
Shaq would decide to bolt for L.A and team up with another up-and-coming star in Kobe Bryant to win three-in-a-row while Penny Hardaway became a “what-if” case as injuries would lead to his decline and eventual retirement. Head coach Brian Hill was fired in 1997 while Horace Grant and Brian Shaw would win titles with the Lakers joining Shaq and Kobe. As for Nick Anderson, he never was the same after his four-straight missed free throws.
Today, the 94-95 Rockets remain without question the most underrated and disrespected team in NBA history. They’ve become a victim of the question of whether MJ’s retirement was a factor or not. Some have gone so far to give them an *, something which I argued against even though we recently have a title called into question for immoral reasons. But the numbers are there as the Rockets had a winning record against the Bulls in the decade.
As I sit here writing this and thinking back to the four-year-old boy in me wishing I could be there and reliving the moments, I often wonder when the next championship for Houston will come. Will it have an asterisk to it even if we won it fair or square? Will the championship parade be as magical as the ones we had? How special will it be to a city that once upon a time had to tend with heartbreaking losses?
While the city’s first title was great in1994, the Comets’ dynasty was historic, the Dynamo provided us with two memorable moments in the mid-2000’s, and the recent one, magical and controversial, was a way to heal the city through a major storm. Perhaps the one that will forever be remembered the most was the one in 1995 when few thought we could repeat as champions. The great poet Robert Frost once wrote that two roads diverged into the wood and the speaker
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took the one less traveled by, which has made all the difference. With how far the Rockets traveled to their title in 1995 and how much they overcame the odds while shutting the naysayers, it seems fair that we remember these guys as legendary.
I still wait for another championship, which I know will come. Maybe it will be this year or the next. Maybe it will take some time. But even while I wait along with everyone else, I will look back on this as a true testament to the great city of Houston. A blue-collar, underdog city. Not ritzy like New York. Not flashy like L.A. Maybe not the biggest sports market like Boston or Chicago. Sometimes second fiddle to Dallas. But we don’t need to be any of those places because we can create a culture of our own.
While most repeat champions dominated and faced little adversity, the Rockets had different battles and came out on top. Should they be respected? Absolutely! They may not have been the best team in the decade, but they were the most dangerous team.
When you had them on the ropes, they would make you earn the victories against them or knock you out before you could deliver the knockout blow. With the Rockets’ run in 1995, it was the year of the heart of a champion.