The last time the Rockets played the Jazz, AlDe2356 gave me the coolest preview idea ever. So, today, instead of focusing on the current Rockets and Jazz, we're going to skip that and go straight to a game that really matters.
We're going back to 1995. The place: Salt Lake City, Utah. Specifically, the Delta Center.
It's Game 5 of the first round of the 1995 playoffs. The Jazz are a 3 seed, while the Rockets finished in 6th place. The same Jazz team had beaten the Rockets three times in the regular season, including two of the last three games. These teams were further familiar with each other in that the previous season they had squared off in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets won and advanced to the Finals, winning their first championship as a franchise.
The series was supposed to be close, but most experts believed that the Jazz would take it. Home-court advantage, good defense, and cast of great shooters gave them the edge. Their two stars, John Stockton and Karl Malone had made the First-Team All-NBA squad, while the Rockets' stars, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, had been relegated to the third team.
And in game 1, the visitors succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and shooters. The Jazz received superb bench play from Adam Keefe, Tom Chambers, and Antoine Carr. Much to the Rockets chagrin, their spark plug off the bench, Vernon Maxwell, went down with a hamstring injury and was unable to play in the rest of the series (of course, Mad Max was faking, but we didn't know that at the time).
Game 2 brought out the Rockets offense. They awakened to the tune of 140 points on 72% eFG%. Four different Rockets scored over 20 points, led by Kenny Smith (32). No Rocket shot less than 50%.
As the series headed back to Houston for game 3, the Jazz used Karl Malone's 32/19 explosion to win, but it was their defense that was the unsung hero of the game. In stark contrast to game 2, not a single Rocket shot better than 50%.
Continue after the jump, with videos!
They say big time players make big time plays in big time games. They also say "big time" a lot. But no matter how you slice it, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler refused to let the Rockets go gentle into the good night in game 4. Behind 40 and 41 points, respectively, the future Hall of Famers got to the line 29 times and ripped off the life support the Rockets were receiving at the time.
So it's on to game 5, in Salt Lake City. A raucous city desperate for a championship. A team looking to prove that last year wasn't a fluke. Four all-stars. Two great coaches. Two teams. One game. This one is for all the marbles. Who will emerge victorious? It's...the NBA on NBC!
♪♪ NBA on NBC ★ 1998 NBA Finals Intro ★ (via jjx2094)-Sorry, I couldn't find a Jazz-Rockets intro from 1995.
PG: Kenny Smith vs. John Stockton:
Remarkably, The Jet and Stockton have played to a relative draw through the first four games. Granted, Stockton still gets more assists, but he's unable to defend Kenny well, and can't keep up when Sam Cassell enters the game.
Smith and Cassell have been in this situation. Last year, both the Suns and Knicks series went to deciding games. In terms of moxie, they hold the edge. But, at home in a must-win game, I have to take man with most
illegal elbows assists in the league this season. But you can bet Kenny Smith won't want to go fishing after this game. Look for him to push the tempo and try to make this a high-scoring affair.
SG: Clyde Drexler vs. Jeff Hornacek:
Drexler is coming off arguably his best game as a Rocket. 41 points on 12-18 shooting from the field, 4-8 from the three point line, and 13-14 from the free throw line. Throw in nine rebounds and nine assists and you've got an incredible game from an incredible player.
Whether you like him or not, Jeff Hornacek is an incredible three point shooter. The Rockets will have to keep him away from triples or this game could get out of hand. If he hits four or more threes, the Rockets will be in trouble and probably won't be looking at the second round unless they've got a television on the golf course.
SF: Pete Chilcutt vs. David Benoit:
As opposed to Hornacek, Benoit is the guy the Rockets want shooting the triple. He only shoots 33% from three, but shoots 49% overall, so he's very adept at hitting jumpers and getting easy shots. In close game situations, he's the guy I want taking the big shot. I assume the Rockets will rotate off him freely when Stockton penetrates or Malone posts up.
For the Rockets, I expect Mario Elie to be chasing Benoit around and generally getting most of the minutes. Chilcutt can hit the three, but if he's off Rudy has to pull the plug quickly to get a scorer into the game. Also, Elie is a great free throw shooter and could help ice a game late. Plus, he's got a game-winning three up his sleeve. I'm sure of it.
PF: Robert Horry vs. Karl Malone:
My father isn't racist, but there are a few players who get under his skin, and they happen to be black. He hates white players, too, though. For example he despises John Stockton ("dirty little cheater") and he can't stand Detlef Schrempf ("smug-looking idiot!").
But the player he hates the most is Karl Malone. He calls him a "gorilla," but only because of his size. It isn't an indictment of race, but rather of Malone's playing style. And certainly, it's a well-formed hypothesis. Though Malone's jump shot has gotten better over time, he still relies on his size and muscle to get points. My father also believes that by making the game physical it will ruin basketball as we know it and turn a non-contact sport into a very physical one with hand-checks and hard moving screens. I hope he's wrong.
The good news: it's Sunday, and the mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays.
The other player he hates the most is Shaquille O'Neal, but I don't think we'll be seeing him anytime soon.
C: Hakeem Olajuwon vs. James Donaldson:
The British center will have his hands full yet again. Donaldson starts for one reason: his size (7'2"). He's taken a total of seven shots in the series and I don't expect him to turn into Kareem tonight. But, if he wants to shoot, by all means let the guy shoot.
Hakeem, you've done so much for this city already. You've sacrificed and fought for us. However, we need more tonight. The Jazz are going to throw four different guys at you. They're going to foul you. They're going to do some dirty stuff. It's win or go home. We need you to keep away from home. You know how they say you can never go home again? Well, I hope they're right. One more time, Dream. One game. Plus, you and I both know that you want to take out David Robinson, the man that stole your MVP trophy. Let's go take it back!
Rockets: Sam Cassell, Mario Elie, Chucky Brown, Charles Jones
Jazz: Tom Chambers, Antoine Carr, Adam Keefe, Jamie Watson
Keys to the Game
Get to the free throw line
Keep Stockton quiet
Play with heart
Other important games today: Indiana at New York (East second round Game 1), Chicago at Orlando (East second round Game 1)
Videos: courtesy of patvilhauer on Youtube
We begin with less than a minute to play in the third quarter. The Jazz have been on a tear, and currently lead 71-61. The Rockets have been unable to get anything going on offense and Jeff Hornacek and Karl Malone are killing us. We join Greg Gumble and Steve "Snapper" Jones, with Hannah Storm patrolling the sidelines:
1995 NBA Playoffs 1st Round Rockets/Jazz Game 5 Pt 8/11 (via patvilhauer)
1995 NBA Playoffs 1st Round Rockets/Jazz Game 5 Pt 9/11 (via patvilhauer)
1995 NBA Playoffs 1st Round Rockets/Jazz Game 5 Pt 10/11 (via patvilhauer)
1995 NBA Playoffs 1st Round Rockets/Jazz Game 5 Pt 11/11 (via patvilhauer)
I hope you guys liked this. I'll be driving to Lubbock all day, so if you hate it there's not much I can do until right after the game ends.
There's a line Charles Barkley once told Kenny Smith on TNT that always stays with me (I'm paraphrasing): "With Kenny's Rockets, you had to kill them. You couldn't wait for them to die, because they would come back and kill you."