95 Houston Rockets Obtain Time Machine, Play Chicago in the 96 NBA Finals (PART I of II)
Charles Barkley's not my favorite player, just my favorite famous dude.
On Inside the NBA a few seasons ago, Kenny Smith was talking about his Houston Rocket team and how interesting it would have been if Double Clutch played the Untouchabulls. Charles Barkley, sitting next to him like he does, scoffed and said, "Maaaaaaan, the Bulls would have funked you up."
Barkley's so great. However, did you know that Kenny Smith actually got his wish? That the Houston Rockets in fact DID obtain a time machine and went to play the Chicago Bulls of 1996 with Dennis Rodman in the Finals? That's right. See they got the idea after getting swept by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1996 playoffs. They pushed Game 4 to overtime on a great three I don't remember by who, but got beat in overtime. In fact it can be argued that the reason Houston had those two titles was because they didn't have to go through Seattle! They lost to them in 93, and they lost to Seattle again in 96. In 94 and 95, the Sonics got upset in the first round each time.
So one thing we wondered before Game 1 of these new 1996 NBA FInals, was that if Seattle couldn't beat the Bulls in a four-game series, why in the world would Houston?
Because once re-assembling that 95 team and travelling to Chicago in June of 1996, they read the Chicago sports papers. Not a word about them. Not a chance. Nobody in the world believed the Rockets could pose a threat. And they were happy?! This is why I liked the Houston Rockets -- they played better not when they were angry like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but when they had absolutely no praise to live up to. They weren't angry at being the overwhelming underdogs despite being the two-time defending champions, they were...loose and excited?!
The series started in Chicago. Princess Diana was in town (true story) and it took a Finals appearance with Michael Jordan to top it. Wednesday night's Game 1 had the following line-ups to recap -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Chucky Brown, Robert Horry, Clyde Drexler and Kenny Smith versus Luc Longley, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan and Ron Harper. The game's first memorable moment came just three minutes in. Harper had to be separated from Sam Cassell and the jawing between them made every jerk in America start launching into impersonations for their friends. Then Luc Longley, out of nowhere, dunks on Olajuwon and just hangs there for a moment in order to make sure everyone sees what he just did. It's 26-24 Bulls after one, 54-47 at the half, 80-63 after there, and the Bulls win 98-83. It's unexciting, slow, never close, and Hakeem has only 21 points and 8 rebounds as the leading scorer for Houston. Drexler has 16 and Kenny Smith is 0 for 6. Dennis Rodman only has 9 rebounds.
BULLS LEAD SERIES 1-0
Most would look at Rodman's 9 rebounds and ask what was up. Phil Jackson examined even further and notices that Rodman had only 2 offensive rebounds. He figures that Rudy Tomjanovich will point this out as a hole in Chicago's game and thus overload with Olajuwon. And thus...Phil Jackson has Rodman guard Hakeem Olajuwon.
What happens in Game 2 is magical. Olajuwon manages to be the only person all year who Rodman can't completely shut down. He does his dream shake and scores 16 points in the first period, but then the Rockets call a time out in the second quarter and figure that with Olajuwon up and functioning, they can try to get some activity out of their other weapons, the ones at the mid-range and out to the three-point-line. And the Bulls just annihalate them. Kenny Smith and Clyde Drexler can't do anything. Jud Buechler and Randy Brown are taking Drexler's charges and falling to the ground and the crowd's going wild. Rodman suddenly has Olajuwon in a very tricky position. Olajuwon needs his teammates. He can't score 100 points all by himself, coupled with the fact that the way to make a shooting slump go away is to continue to feed the slumper the ball. You have to shoot your way out of a shooting slump and you have to dribble your way out of committing turnovers. So despite Pippen and Jordan and Harper knocking the ball away from their guards and going up for breakaway dunks, Olajuwon CONTINUES TO PASS IT OUT TO THEM!!! There's no telling how much more he could have done in this game. It got to the point where Rodman didn't even have to get up on him -- he just put his hands out and deflected passes away and flopped on the floor as Drexler and Horry came by for those dunks. Even little Steve Kerr is jumping in front of Olajuwon's kick-out passes. The most memorable play in the game comes when Horry dunks on Michael Jordan. It was not a big time posterized jam, but one that Jordan clearly bailed from. Bulls win it 94-70.
CHICAGO LEADS THE SERIES 2-0
Click below to see what happened when the series went back to Houston...