The 90s were all about the Bulls - a team to beat that no one was able to beat. They dominated the league, taking home six championships during their run, leaving teams a small two-year Jordan-less window for them to get theirs. The team which got the best of it was the Houston Rockets as they swooped in and won back-to-back titles in a process.
Their first title run in ’94 went down to the wire, as they barely got the best of Ewing’s Knicks, winning a hard-fought Game 7. It was a pinnacle of a tough path to glory, as the Rockets had to go through Portland, Phoenix, and Utah on their way to the top. However, it was nothing like what they had to go through the following year.
Their ’95 championship run to this day is one of the toughest paths to lifting up the Larry O’Brien, as the Rockets faced juggernauts on every stop, making historic comebacks to win it all eventually. The core of the team that had won a championship a year before changed, as they acquired Clyde Drexler two months before the post-season. The adjustment period took a toll on them, as they were only able to stack up 47 wins in the regular season, finishing as a sixth seed in the West.
A poor run over 82 games meant a tougher post-season path to the finals, and it started just like that. The Rockets faced the three-seeded Utah Jazz, with Karl Malone and John Stockton at the peak of their powers. After trailing 2-1 in the series, the Rockets were able to come back and win back-to-back games to close out the series in five.
Their second-round matchup was vs. the two-seeded Phoenix Suns, led by Charles Barkley. The funny thing is, Barkley wasn’t the one that gave them the most troubles during the series. It was Kevin Johnson, who averaged 27.9 PPG and 9.4 APG, shooting the lights out over the seven games series.
The Suns won first two games of the series, and after the Rockets blew them out in third, Phoenix was able to go up 3-1. However, the Rockets made a historic comeback, winning three games in a row, and making the WCF. A two-headed-monster of Olajuwon and Drexler led them, but the one who sealed the game 7 was Mario Ellie. He hit a “Kiss Of Death “corner three to propel the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals, where the Spurs were waiting.
The Spurs were the number one seed in the West, coming off a 62-20 regular season. They were led by the MVP David Robinson and All NBA 3rd team Dennis Rodman. The two were also on all NBA defensive 1st team, making the best 4-5 defensive punch in the league. But it still wasn’t enough to stop Hakeem. The Dream tortured them with 35 per game, as the Rockets beat them in 6, and advanced to the NBA Finals.
Their historically tricky path to the championship had a pretty anticlimactic end to it, as they swept the Magic to win it all. It was the same Magic team that bounced the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after MJ made his comeback from playing baseball. But they once again didn’t have an answer The Dream, who took home the Finals MVP trophy, averaging 32.8/11.5/5.5 over the final four games of the season.
Don’t let the Finals series fool you; what the Rockets had to go through to get there was very impressive. To this day, they are the lowest-seeded team ever to win an NBA title, which speaks to how hard it was for them to accomplish it. They had to overcome 2-0 and 3-1 deficits and go through some all-time greats to eventually lift the trophy, which makes it one of toughest paths to the NBA championship.