Sunday June 19th, 1994 - NBA Finals Game 6
The Rockets came into the 1993-1994 season with a bad taste in their mouth. The season before ended with a bitterly disappointing loss to the Seattle Supersonics. The Rockets finished the regular season as the 2nd seed with a 55-27 record, the same as Seattle, but didn't have the home court during their 2nd round series because Seattle took the season series 3-1. The first 6 games of the series were blowouts by the home team leaving a winner-takes-all in Seattle for Game 7. Not having the home court ultimately ended the Rockets season after Seattle won Game 7 103-100 in overtime.
The Rockets started the 1993-1994 season on a mission; get past Seattle and win the city's first major championship. The team charged out of the gate with a 15 game win streak, and after their first loss of the year vs. Atlanta, promptly won another 7 games in a row to start off the season with a 22-1 record. At seasons end the Rockets had a 58-24 record and were the 2nd seed in the West, behind the Seattle Supersonics of course.
In the first round, Denver handed Houston a miracle gift; they defeated the number 1 seed Supersonics and took out the biggest obstacle to the Rockets winning the NBA title. They still had to take care of business though and did so with a 3-1 series win over Portland in the first round. In the 2nd round it looked like the Rockets might also fall prey to a lower seed after blowing leads in games 1 & 2 to Phoenix, including a massive 18 point 4th quarter lead in Game 2. Led by Olajuwon and Maxwell, the Rockets rebounded in Game 3 with a 16 point win and won the next two also for a 3-2 series lead. Houston protected its home court thanks to big games from Olajuwon, Horry, and Cassell in Game 7 for a 104-94 win and the right to advance to the Western Conference Finals vs. the Utah Jazz.
The Rockets made quick work of the Jazz with a 4-1 series win and then had to wait for the 7 game slugfest between the Knicks and Pacers to end to find out who would replace the Bulls as the Eastern Conference Champs. When the Knicks emerged, the center of attention of the series immediately focused on the two future hall of fame centers, Olajuwon and Ewing. The two teams traded wins during the first 4 games with both teams winning on the road to head into the crucial Game 5 with the series tied 2-2. Historically, the team that wins Game 5 of a tied series tends to take it, but of course that wasn't true in the Knicks/Pacers series the round before. After losing to the Knicks 91-84 in Game 5, the Rockets hoped they could pull of the same feat the Knicks had against the Pacers; they would at least get to attempt the feat with two games at home.
Appropriately, Game 6 was tied after the 1st quarter at 21-21. It had been a hard fought, physical series but the Rockets won the 2nd quarter by ten points to hold a 46-36 halftime lead. Ewing struggled in Game 6 shooting just 6-20 for the game so it was up to John Starks to carry them. Starks and the Knicks battled back in the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to 65-62 heading into the final quarter. For the game Starks shot 9-18 for 27 points including five 3-pointers. The 4th quarter went back and forth and with 5 seconds left, the Knicks were down just two with the ball. The inbounds pass of course went to John Starks with Vernon Maxwell guarding him. Starks dribbled left off of a pick from Ewing, pulled up from behind the arc but got blocked by Olajuwon who helped off of Ewing's pick of Maxwell.
The Rockets held home court in Game 6 and sent the series to a Game 7. Of course the Rockets won Game 7 90-84 and took home their first championship. How history might have been different though if Olajuwon had clipped his nails that morning and he wasn't able to block the shot by the slimmest of margins.