It's the last week before training camp starts and there will be actual Rockets news and stuff to report on. Until that time, we're still reminiscing (IT'S STILL SUMMER DAMMIT) about Rockets teams of yore. All week, we'll be counting down the greatest games in team history. We start today, with games 20-16.
Yao Ming's rookie season was filled with plenty of preconceived notions and criticism (The Charles Barkley - Kenny Smith bet, anyone?) that Yao began slowly changing with his increasingly stellar play on the court. But Yao had yet to experience a true rookie coming-of-age moment until his first ever confrontation with the game's premiere big man, Shaquille O'Neal.
Shaq made several ignorant and racist remarks about Yao in the lead up to the game (which he later apologized for), leading to plenty of media-fueled drama in the preface of a nationally televised contest.
Yao responded by blocking Shaq's first three shots in the first period and also hitting three of his own first four to announce to the world that even as a yet-to-fill-out rookie, he belonged with the big boys.
Shaq put up 31 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists to Yao's 10 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks to clearly win the box score, but Yao's Rockets won the game in overtime 108-104, and a big dunk by Yao in the extra period was what sealed the deal for the Rockets.
World, meet Yao Ming.
19. April 9th, 1995 - Clyde saves the day - Rockets at Nuggets
We all know the story: the Rockets, struggling for motivation and playing poorly in the midst of an arduous title defense attempt, swung one of the biggest trades in franchise history by moving power forward and team favorite Otis Thorpe for superstar shooting guard Clyde Drexler.
Drexler struggled to mesh with the team at first, and the team continued to struggle in the standings. With Hakeem Olajuwon on the sidelines down the regular season home stretch, however, Drexler was the one to stand up to help keep the team afloat.
This was the moment when the second Rockets title squad truly began to believe in powers of The Glide, the moment they grew closer as a team, the moment they realized truly what they had once Olajuwon returned.
Drexler capped off a 34-point, 13-rebound performance with a ridiculous buzzer beater from wet suit deep, and just like that, Clyde was officially "back" in Houston. (No, it wasn't 99 feet, like the video title, but it's one of the few available online.)
18. February 2nd, 1982 - Moses drops a 50 burger - Rockets vs. Clippers (San Diego)
The Rockets were trying to get back to the Finals after an unceremonious exit the year before at the hands of the Boston Celtics, and though the Rockets were barely playing .500 ball, Moses Malone (RIP) was as dominant as ever.
On his way to his second MVP Award, Malone dropped a career high 53 points and gobbled up 23 rebounds in a 122-106 victory over the Clippers. Malone finished the season with a career high average of 31.1 points, finishing second to George Gervin for the scoring title, and led the league in rebounding with 14.7.
The Rockets would later bow out of the playoffs in round one to Seattle.
17. May 4th, 2009 - Yao does Willis - Rockets at Lakers, Western Conference Semifinals, Game 1
The Rockets were coming off of their first playoff series win in 12 years (more about that later), and though the team was playing without an injured Tracy McGrady, optimism was still sky high going into a second round match with the favored Lakers.
Yao was having one of his finest seasons, and he didn't disappoint in Game One. A tight contest saw Yao hit the floor after a collision with Kobe Bryant in a collective breath-holding moment.
But as Yao was taken back to the locker room and taking the Rockets hopes of winning with him, he instead walked back out of the tunnel onto the court against the wishes of trainer Keith Jones, returning to the game in a scene reminiscent of the famed Willis Reed moment.
Yao proceeded to score 8 points in the final four minutes to lead the Rockets to a 100-92 victory in the opening game. Yao finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The Rockets had all the momentum, and it appeared as though they may have just enough to pull off a major upset.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Yao would go down for good two games later, and though the team made a valiant effort in his stead, the Rockets would lose in seven games to the eventual NBA champs.
Game One in the 2009 West Semis was Yao Ming's Hunter S. Thompson-style high water mark. The place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. We'd never see a healthy Yao Ming again.
(The injury/return sequence starts around the 8:45 mark.)
16. May 22nd, 1995 - Big Shot Bob shoots big - Rockets at Spurs, Western Conference Finals, Game 1
It was the first game of the Western Conference Finals, and the marquee match up was between two of the best centers the game has ever known in Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. And while this series would end up being defined by that face off (again, more on that later), lost in the shuffle perhaps is a patented Robert Horry moment in Game One.
Olajuwon and Robinson battled to a relative draw in the series opener, and Horry was in the midst of an otherwise forgettable performance. But in typical Horry fashion, he stepped up when he was needed the most, drilling a long jumper with 6.5 seconds left to take the opening game for the Rockets.
Horry finished with a modest 7 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot 1-5 from the field that night, cashing the only attempt that truly mattered.