20 years ago, the Rockets won their first NBA title, beating the Knicks in 7-games, and June 12 marks the 20-year anniversary of the third game of that series. It was played at Madison Square Garden after the teams split the first two games of the series in Houston. It isn’t the most memorable game of that series, but it certainly was the best, and without it, the Rockets don’t win the series. Below is a Bill Simmons-esque retro diary recapping how it all played out.
Pregame: The video below is the introduction of both team’s starting lineup. It has been 20 years and I’m still intimidated by this. The PA announcer, the shear volume of the pasty Knick fans waving their towels in the air, the “It’s all about heart, It’s all about soul” signs, what an incredible setting for an important basketball game. Too bad we’ll never see the Garden like that again.
8:24 Houston 11 New York 2- Knicks are forced to call their second timeout of the game after a bad Charles Oakley jumper leads to a transition bucket for Vernon Maxwell, who has already taken four shots. Out of the timeout, Marv Albert asks the question “Can (Maxwell) play under control, we talked about it with the man they call ‘Mad Max’”, they then cut to a video with Maxwell talking about keeping his emotions in check. This is called foreshadowing.
5:47 Houston 16 New York 8- Robert Horry makes the first of two free throws to give him half the Rockets’ points. He’s taken just 2 shots to get those 8 points. As he gets ready for the second free throw, Marv throws it to sideline reporter Ahmad Rashad. Horry misses. By the way, NBC had TWO sideline reporters for this series. Ahmad was on the Knicks, Hannah Storm had the Rockets.
4:14 Houston 16 New York 15- Knicks on a 7-0 run since Ahmad’s report. A Derek Harper 3-ponter, followed by a couple of Charles Smith left-baseline jumpers from 19-feet.
3:27 Houston 18 New York 15- Out of a Rockets timeout, NBC shows all the celebrities in attendance. In order of appearance: Spike Lee, John McEnroe, Donald Trump, Itzhak Perlman, John Thompson, John Kennedy Jr who was sitting next to Daryl Hannah, and Jack Nicholson who Marv says was in town for the premiere of “Wolf”. The Lakers missed in 1994. They’ve only missed twice since: 2005 and 2014.
0:00 Houston 26 New York 18- Horry leads all scorers with 10, the last of which came on a right handed slam as he slashed inside. He’s remembered for his 3-point shooting, but people forget how athletic he was early in his career. Maxwell has 8 points. We’ll see it again in this game.
8:22 Houston 34 New York 24- Rockets stretched the lead to 12 before a Patrick Ewing put-back dunk. Carl Herrera and Mario Elie making contributions for the Rockets off the bench. I think Knicks fans still have nightmares of the “Amigo”.
6:17 Houston 42 New York 26- Knicks call timeout after Sam Cassell drains his second 3-pointer of the quarter off some wonderful ball movement after an offensive rebound. Rockets got the ball after forcing a turnover off a trap. Out of the timeout, Matt Goukas breaks out the telestrator of the play and for some reason Hubert Davis left Cassell to help on Herrera. Davis was replaced by John Starks when play resumed. Rockets have made 5-of-7 threes, they played so unselfish. Goukas was in his first season as NBC’s lead analyst after the Magic fired him. He held the job for four seasons, but when NBC let Marv go after his scandal in 1997, Goukas was basically never heard from nationally again.
4:05 Houston 42 New York 32- Rockets call timeout after the Knicks score six straight. Out of the commercial, NBC puts up the graphic below. Before it leaves the screen, the Rockets throw the inbounds pass away leading to a Derek Harper breakaway layup. Lead down to 8.
1:20 Houston 44 New York 36- Oakley fouls Hakeem Olajuwon to end a real ragged minute or so. The first “Houston Sucks” chant of the night follows, or should I say “Youston Sucks”. Olajuwon makes 1-of-2 to get the lead back to 9, matching his point total for the night. Six turnovers for Youston in the 2nd quarter.
0:00 Houston 45 New York 38- Ewing misses a 15-footer, Otis Thorpe gets the rebound with 3 seconds left, throws an incredible 85-foot baseball pass to Olajuwon under the basket, but Ewing gets back and swats it at the buzzer for his fourth block of the half. An absolutely incredible play.
Here is how Bob Costas tossed it back to Marv Albert for the start of the second half, with a special guest appearance at the end.
8:28 Houston 57 New York 45- Kenny Smith finishes a tough layup while being fouled, hits the free throw for the 3-point play. Smith was 2-for-10 in games one and two and before the game, Storm said before the game that a Rocket told her “Kenny’s confidence is shot”. He missed his first two shots of game 3, but that layup was his third straight make.
7:42 Houston 59 New York 45- The Dream at his best. Just sit back and enjoy
2:30 Houston 67 New York 57- Rockets have been getting frustrated with some calls, especially Horry who gets called for a foul by the sideline. He and Maxwell react and then Maxwell starts getting into it with a couple of fans in the second row (foreshadowing for a later date). As the Knicks get ready to inbound the ball, Maxwell follows Starks to the other side of the floor, by the Knicks bench, starts jawing with them and gets called for his 11th technical foul of the playoffs in what was the Rockets 19th playoff game. In today’s NBA, you get suspended after your 7th playoff technical. Starks missed the free throw.
0:57 Houston 69 New York 63- Pat Riley turns to Anthony Bonner, who started the Knicks first 7 playoff games, for the first time all series. He throws one down over Horry, who commits the foul. After two lane violations, the 47 percent free throw shooter misses his third try for the 3-point play. He shot free throws a little like Chuck Hayes, though the hesitation wasn’t quite so dramatic.
0:00 Houston 69 New York 63- Olajuwon is 7-of-17 for points, Ewing has 12 points, but is just just 6-of-23, though he’s been a monster defensively.
This is the graphic NBC comes back from the commercial break with:
10:08 Houston 71 New York 67- Going back to the end of the 3rd quarter, the Rockets have missed 10 straight shots. The two points they scored during that stretch was thanks to back-to-back illegal defense calls. The Knicks were essentially playing zone trying to deny Olajuwon the ball. You can do that now, which is a big reason why entry passes are tougher.
9:53 Houston 73 New York 68- Olajuwon makes 2 free throws to put the Rockets up 6, but they are called for an illegal defense of their own, Starks knocks down the free throw, leading to a timeout. Out of the break, NBC plays the Miller Genuine Moment. It went all the way back to game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals when the Suns, down 2-0, beat the Bulls in Chicago, in triple overtime, 129-121. I think that was the game when Barkley said “God wants us to win the championship” in his postgame interview. I remember watching that game, and I’m almost positive that Kevin Johnson played the first 62:30 of that game.
7:18 Houston 75 New York 71- After Starks drains a three to cut the lead to 2, Cassell ends a 10:26 field goal drought with a layup into the body of Ewing, which draws a foul. He missed the free throw.
5:06 Houston 77 New York 77- Incredible outlet pass by Charles Oakley leads to a fast break layup by Starks ties the game. Rockets have Cassell, Maxwell, Olajuwon, Thorpe and Carl Herrera on the floor. No Horry, no spacing. Rockets call timeout, but don’t put Horry back in.
4:45 Houston 79 New York 77- Thorpe posts up Ewing and banks in a hook shot.
3:50 Houston 81 New York 77- Rudy puts Horry back in, is rewarded with a right handed flush after blowing past Oakley with an impressive cross-over, but Harper answers with a 3 to make it a 1-point game.
2:45 Houston 81 New York 82- A high-arching Ewing jumper gives the Knicks their first lead of the night, but with the Garden going crazy, the Rockets answer with a Thorpe 3-point play. Olajuwon was triple-teamed under the basket, and he somehow got the ball to Thorpe, with an interior bounce-pass, who made an off-balance layup without using glass. Rockets by 2.
1:28 Houston 84 New York 86- An Oakley tip-in followed by a Ewing jumper gives the Knicks their biggest lead of the night. Timeout Rockets.
1:13 Houston 86 New York 86- A beautifully executed play results in another Horry dunk. This time he was able to lose Anthony Mason coming off a screen. Ewing was the help, but he stuck to Olajuwon. Plays like that remind you that Horry could’ve been so much more than what he turned out to be, and it’s why he was so frustrating to watch when he played for the Rockets.
:53 Houston 86 New York 88- With 3 seconds left on the shot clock, Harper hits a step-back jumper. Rockets don’t call timeout, and here’s the ensuing possession:
:23 Houston 89 New York 88- Knicks try to inbound the ball to Starks. They try to fee him up with a couple of screens from Ewing. He moves on both, the second one is called. Knicks foul Cassell, who drains both free throws, Rockets by 3.
:04 Houston 91 New York 88- Starks misses a 3, but Oakley gets the rebound. Oakley passes to Harper who swings to a wide-open Starks. He misses the 3 again, but Olajuwon fouls him on the shot. It could’ve turned into a 4-point play had Starks hit the shot, but since he missed it, the Knicks only get two free throws. Starks makes the first, misses the second on purpose, but Thorpe gets the rebound and the Rockets call timeout before the Knicks can foul. The next season the NBA changed the rule awarding three free throws for fouls on 3-point tries.
Final Houston 93 New York 89- Cassell seals it with a couple of free throws. Rockets win the game, take a 2-1 series lead, and take back the home court advantage. Cassell scored the Rockets last 7 points, had 9 in the fourth quarter, and 15 on the night. This was his breakout game. The Rockets don’t win the game without him, and they don’t win the series without this game.
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