15. April 19th, 1990 - Hakeem's career night - Rockets vs. Nuggets
Olajuwon was in the midst of one of the best defensive seasons of all-time, as he led the league in rebounding (14.0), blocked shots (4.6), defensive win shares and defensive plus-minus. He was also in the midst of a phenomenal end-of-season run (in a recurring theme, more on that later) capped off by this gem.
Olajuwon scored a career-high 52 points on 21-34 shooting from the field, giving Denver the full business, and he also shot a sweet 10-13 from the line. In true Hakeem fashion, he filled the box, adding 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks.
The only thing keep the franchise's best player's highest-scoring game from jumping even higher on this list is that Olajuwon also coughed up 11 turnovers, and the Rockets lost the game in overtime, 130-127.
14. May 25th, 1997 - Eddie Johnson game winner - Rockets vs. Jazz, Western Conference Finals, Game 4
The '96-'97 Rockets squad was undeniably top heavy. The team featured future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley in a Big Three before the phrase even really entered popular sports vernacular.
But after those three (and their Hall of Fame-sized salaries), the pickings were slim. Matt Maloney, Matt Bullard, Kevin Willis, Sedale Threatt, Brent Price, Charles Jones and Othella Harrington were among the names that saw time behind the key trio. Needless to say, quality depth was a problem.
So the Rockets acquired veteran swing man Eddie Johnson from the Indiana Pacers in the hopes of adding another accomplished shooter and play maker for the playoff run, and it payed off in a big way during the Western Conference Finals against the hated Jazz.
After dropping the first two games in Utah then blowing out the Jazz in Houston in Game Three, the Rockets found themselves in a dogfight at home in Game Four.
Tied at 92 with just 6.7 seconds left, the Rockets initially got the ball to Drexler, but he was double teamed. He swung the ball instead back to Matt Maloney, who found an uncovered Johnson at the top of the point for a gorgeous swish at the buzzer.
The Rockets' lack of depth ended up being their doom, as they lost the next two in a row to bow out to the Jazz, but Johnson's shot to tie the series at 2-2 was one of the most exciting Rockets playoff moments ever.
13. April 29th, 1981 - First Finals trip - Rockets at Kings (Kansas City), Western Conference Finals, Game 5
As much (deserved) credit as we give the '94-'95 Rockets team for their highly unlikely run to a championship out of the six seed, the '80-'81 squad's run to get to the Finals may have been even more improbable.
Despite boasting a talented roster with Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich, Robert Reid and Mike Dunleavy, the Rockets could do no better than mustering an under .500 40-42 record, squeaking into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.
After a momentous upset of the Magic-Kareem-Michael Cooper Lakers in the first round, they outlasted the division-winning San Antonio Spurs in Round Two to set up a Western Conference Final match up with the also Cinderella 40-42 Kansas City Kings in what is possibly the unlikeliest Conference Finals in sports history.
The Rockets were in control for most of the series, capping off a 4-1 victory with a 97-88 win in Game Five. Moses Malone scored 36 points and was named MVP of the series to lead the Rockets to their first ever NBA Finals appearance. 11-year Rockets veteran Calvin Murphy cried tears of joy in the locker room post game.
Sadly for the Rockets, they would lose in the NBA Finals to a star-laden Boston Celtics team in six games, but their first ever run to the title series was certainly a memorable (and unlikely) one.
12. April 18th, 2009 - Yao's perfect game - Rockets at Trailblazers, Western Conference First Round, Game 1
The 2009 season started as another typical Rockets season in that they, of course, played the majority of it without at least one of their superstars. Tracy McGrady played in only 35 games due to injury, and the Rockets leaned on big men Yao Ming and Luis Scola and veterans Shane Battier and Ron Artest to a 53-29 record and a first round series with the Portland Trailblazers.
Yao would make sure it didn't finish as another typical Rockets season.
Yao was unstoppable from the start, scoring on put backs, post ups and jumpers; the total package. The Rockets never trailed in the game, and Yao finished with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks on an absolutely pristine 9-9 from the field and 6-6 from the line. The only reason he didn't score 40, was he only played 24 minutes in a 108-81 blowout victory. This win set the tone for the entire series.
While Yao wasn't as dominant in every game, the extra attention he received (the Blazers often sent two and occasionally three men at Yao all series long), and the adjustments the Blazers were forced into making allowed other Rockets to thrive and close out the Blazers in six games.
A 12-year playoff win drought was finally over, and it all started with Yao's "Perfect Game" in Game One.
11. May 5th, 1995 - The 40/40 game - Rockets vs. Jazz, Western Conference First Round, Game 4
The Rockets went into the series with the 60-win Jazz as a major underdog, but were recognized as a live one due to their championship pedigree.
The series did not disappoint.
After a split in Utah, the Rockets dropped the first game at home and found themselves in an elimination situation in Game Four (the first round was still only best-of-five then) at The Summit. The Rockets' two superstars did what superstars do and completely flipped the series.
Hakeem Olajuwon hit the Jazz first, scoring 18 points in the first quarter on his way to 40 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a block, while Clyde Drexler brought it home in a 27-point second half to finish with 41 points, 9 rebounds 6 assists and a steal in a 123-106 Rockets victory.
Olajuwon and Drexler became only the third pair of teammates in NBA playoff history to score 40-plus points in the same game.
The Rockets would carry the momentum over to a 95-91 Game Five victory in Utah, closing out the Jazz and lighting the fire that fueled a second straight title run.