10. December 9th, 2004 - 13 in 33 - Rockets vs Spurs
It was early in the first season of Tracy McGrady's Rockets tenure. Rockets fans were not yet familiar with the injuries and heartbreak that were sadly a huge part of his later legacy.
But they also were not yet familiar with the nights McGrady became T-Mac, an otherworldly basketball talent capable of doing things never before seen on a basketball court.
The Rockets came into the game a mere 8-12, struggling to quite mesh with a revamped lineup that included two superstars in McGrady and Yao Ming who were still discovering how to play together. They had lost five of their previous seven games and were heading into a home matchup with league powerhouse and eventual NBA Champions the San Antonio Spurs.
And to make the night worse, McGrady was matched up against one of the league's premiere perimeter defenders in Bruce Bowen.
For much of the night, the game seemed to go as most would have thought. With only 40 seconds left to go in the game, the Spurs all-world defense had been putting the clamps down on the Rockets offense, holding a 76-68 lead. McGrady had shot a putrid 8-25. With points that hard to come by, an 8-point deficit might as well have been 100.
Exit McGrady and enter T-Mac.
In a whirlwind sequence, McGrady drained four consecutive three pointers, including the game winner with 1.7 seconds left off his own steal at the defensive end for an 81-80 victory.
The win kick-started the Rockets on a 24-10 run as a team to save the season, and may be the single most impressive T-Mac moment in career littered with them.
9. March 29th, 1990 - Hakeem's quadruple double - Rockets vs Bucks
As we alluded to when discussing Olajuwon's 52-point game at number 15 on this list, Dream had himself one heck of a last month and a half of the '89-'90 season.
Before both the 52-pointer and the actual quadruple double, Olajuwon had himself a near quad dip miss on March 3rd against the Warriors. He finished that game with 29 points, 18 rebounds, 11 blocks and 9 assists, with only a disputed assist no-call by the league standing in his way.
But less than a month later against the Bucks, Olajuwon hit the elusive milestone by putting up 18 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks and 10 assists in a 120-94 Rockets blowout victory, becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to go for a quadruple double.
That's the 52-pointer, a near miss quadruple dip and an actual quadruple dip all within a span of 45 days.
8. June 19th, 1994 - The tip game - Rockets at Knicks, NBA Finals, Game 6
The Rockets were in the midst of yet another knock-down, drag-out game with the New York Knicks in what had been an entire knock-down, drag-out series, only this one was an elimination game.
After losing two straight games in New York, the Rockets went back to Houston down 3-2 and faced an uphill climb against one of the league's toughest and most physical defensive squads. The straits were certainly dire.
Despite jumping out to a 10-point halftime lead, the Rockets had no answers for John Starks, whose unconscious shooting from downtown got the Knicks to within two points of a title with just 7.6 seconds on the clock and the ball.
Everyone knew Starks would be taking the last shot, but he was able to sneak free from Vernon Maxwell anyway off of a big pick set by Patrick Ewing, and Hakeem Olajuwon appeared an obvious step behind on the switch.
Starks had a great look, but a huge leap and a fingertip by Olajuwon changed the course of history, as what appeared to be an on-target, championship-winning buzzer-beater fell short. The Rockets won Game Six 86-84 and lived to fight again in Game Seven.
7. June 7th, 1995 - Kenny shoots lights out (and Nick Anderson doesn't) - Rockets at Magic, NBA Finals, Game 1
Despite their defending champion status, the Rockets went into their second straight Finals appearance as the underdogs to the upstart Orlando Magic. And as Game One got underway, it appeared as though the Rockets really did have no answer for the youth and athleticism of Shaquille O'neal and Penny Hardaway.
The Magic jumped out to a 20-point first half lead before the Rockets dug in their heels, stayed veteran cool in the face of adversity and chipped away at the deficit.
Olajuwon settled into a groove and was taking it to both Shaq and Horace Grant, while Kenny Smith got hot from the outside. Smith hit seven threes, including five in the pivotal third quarter comeback, both Finals records at the time (the five threes in a quarter still stands).
Smith also hit the game-tying three-point shot in the fourth quarter, after Nick Anderson embarrassingly and famously missed four consecutive free throws. (Ed. Note: He was never the same player after that)
The game was just as close in the overtime stanza, but the Rockets pulled it out at the buzzer on a Hakeem Olajuwon tip, and were in the Magic's heads the rest of the way. Orlando gave Houston their absolute best shot in Game One and still couldn't get it done.
Olajuwon finished with 31 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks, Kenny Smith finished with 23 points and 9 assists, including shooting 7 for 11 from downtown, and the four-game sweep doesn't happen without Game One's soul-stealing comeback.
6. May 13th, 1994 - The birth of Clutch City - Rockets at Suns - Western Conference Semifinals, Game 3
At halftime of Game Three in the Western Semis against Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and the Phoenix Suns, Choke City was in full effect.
The Rockets had blown back-to back 20-point leads in Houston in both Games One and Two, collapsing under the weight of the moment. And traveling to Phoenix and looking to turn things around, they found themselves in a 49-41 halftime hole and staring down the possibility of a sweep.
A change in belief and a change in nickname, however, was sparked in the second half by the maddest of sources. Vernon Maxwell caught absolute fire down the stretch, pouring in 31 of his 34 points after the break in what may have been his career-defining performance.
The Rockets won in Phoenix 118-102 and went on to win the next two games as well in taking an eventual seven game set.
The Rockets also got 26 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks from Hakeem Olajuwon, but it was the frenetic play of Mad Max that turned around the game, turned around the series and sparked the entire Clutch City phenomenon.