Saturday May 20th, 1995:
It's a shot, a moment, and a game that will live forever in the hearts and minds of every Rockets fan. The 1994-1995 season started off with obvious promise and hope coming off the teams first ever championship. The Rockets won 9 games in a row to start the season but that momentum would not last for long. After the hot start, they went 4-7 in their next 11 games. Throughout December and January the Rockets never fell too far behind, but only had 1 win streak over 2 games; at the All-Star break, they'd yet to regain their championship form.
The second half of the season became a transition period for Houston with the abcense of Vernon Maxwell and a blockbuster trade involving an All-Star and a future Hall of Famer. On February 14th, 1995 the team pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal that brought them Houston native Clyde Drexler from the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Otis Thorpe. To some this may have seemed like a no-brainer, but shaking up the chemistry of a championship team is not a easy decision to make. Kenny Smith for one was vocal about being disappointed that the team didn't get a chance to repeat as a whole; but those concerns were quickly erased.
The extra star power was needed more than orginally thought when Olajuwon went down on March 26th with an injury that kept him out for 8 games. During those 8 games Drexler averaged 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists; this hot stretch included a triple-double against Dallas on April 11th and an amazing game winning 3-pointer vs. Denver.
(Game winning shot at the 6:49 mark)
At the end of the season the bad news was, the Rockets finished with just a 47-35 record and were the 6th seed in the West; the good news, Hakeem was healthy and back in the lineup. As far as the Rockets were concerned, all they needed was a healthy roster; it didn't matter where the games were played.
In the 1st round the Rockets met up with the Utah Jazz who they had beat in 5 games the season before in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets lost a close game one, 102-100, but proved resilient as they took game 2 in Utah 140-126, giving them a chance to win the series in Houston. Much like in the regular season though they weren't able to hold the momentum and lost game 3; once again, their backs were against the wall. The Rockets won Game 4 123-106 to set up a winner-take all Game 5. In Game 5 the Rockets used a hot 4th quarter and 64 combined points from Olajuwon and Drexler to take the series and set up another rematch; this time with the Phoenix Suns.
The Jeckyll and Hyde Rockets took it on the chin in Phoenix losing the first-two games by a combined 46 points before bouncing back in game 3 with a 33 point win. Game to game, it was a mystery which team would show up. After losing Game 4 in Houston 114-110, even local TV personalities started betting their hair that the team wouldn't comeback down 3-1. The Rockets had other plans and took Game 5 in Phoenix 103-97 in overtime. Building on that momentum they beat the Suns by 13 points back in Houston in Game 6 setting up another winner takes all Game 7.
The Suns looked poised early to crush any thoughts the Rockets had of completing the comeback after a 26-13 1st quarter. The Suns hot start faded in the 2nd quarter though with the Rockets battling back to win the quarter 28-25 and cut the lead to 51-41 going into half-time. The Rockets torched the Suns in the 3rd quarter with a 40-28 run after the break and actually held a 81-79 lead entering the final quarter. The 4th quarter was a high scoring affair with the lead changing hands several times. For the Rockets the usual suspects, Hakeem & Clyde led the way; for the Suns Kevin Johnson scorched the nets for 46 points. Late in the game, they needed a big shot. Most of the time that meant Olajuwon, Drexler, or Horry...maybe even Kenny Smith. This time it was Mario Elie, and did he ever deliver. Off the inbounds pass, Horry brought the ball across half-court, the defense started towards him to trap, but Horry delivered a pass that was a little high but Elie caught it, Mario put up the shot and swished it! The Rockets bench erupted as a hush swept over the Phoenix crowd. An elated Elie immediatly saw Joe Kleine and delivered the signature finish, a kiss, the Suns were done.
The Rockets continued to pick up momentum and eventually swept the Magic for their 2nd title in a row. Mario Elie was never a star, but his role on the championship teams should not be undersold; they couldn't have done it without him.