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Greatest Rockets team of all-time bracket: Semifinals - 1995 (2) vs. 2018 (3)

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Our most intriguing matchup to this point.

Indiana Pacers v Houston Rockets Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

How the 1995 team matches up

We already know Hakeem is going to dominate. This was the absolute pinnacle of his offensive game, and sorry, Clint Capela or P.J. Tucker or whoever the 2018 team decides to put/switch on him, you’re going to get torched. Dream averaged 33 per game over 22 playoff contests against some of the greatest defenders that ever played the game. 40 or more against the 2018 team is not only not out of the question, it probably happens.

Dream was also one of the few big men in history who could guard literally any position. His quickness and fast hands led him to 2,162 career steals, good enough for ninth all-time, many of those off of much smaller guards. The 2018 team’s philosophy of forcing the switch until they got a mismatch is much less effective with Olajuwon around.

Force him to switch onto Chris Paul or James Harden on the perimeter? He can guard that. Don’t force him out, and he’ll be waiting to come backside to swat any drives. 2018 will need to kick out and shoot a ton of threes — which admittedly is a huge part of their game too — but if they aren’t hitting them at a top-notch clip (0-27 anyone? Sorry, I had to), there’s not going to be many other ways to score.

The 1995 team is perfect foil for 2018’s strategy. In addition to Dream, Robert Horry can guard multiple positions and also protect the rim (1.2 blocks per game in 1995). Mario Elie can guard multiple positions as well. So can Drex. This team has the skill and versatility to match up with a modern style of basketball.

And don’t forget, 1995 can shoot from deep too. The NBA was a different game then, so the number of threes were obviously less overall, but does anyone think these guys wouldn’t be able to still hit at an increased volume? Kenny Smith was a 40 percent shooter on 1665 career attempts, Elie was 37 percent three-point shooter on 1572 career attempts, Horry shot 34 percent on 2329 attempts, Sam Cassell shot 33 percent on 2029 attempts for his career. If the game goes modern, have no doubts they can hang with today’s philosophies. If it goes old school, that’s a walk in the park for 1995.

I think the biggest mistake people make when trying to match up teams from different eras is making the assumption that the guys from the past weren’t good enough or skilled enough to play the modern game. It’s recency bias, and just because the game is played differently now, doesn’t make these players unable to play that way. Really... Olajuwon, Horry, Drexler, Elie, etc... wouldn’t be able to hang in today’s game? That’s just crazy talk.

This team also didn’t lose when it mattered. They just simply didn’t. 60-win Utah Jazz, 59-win Phoenix Suns, 62-win San Antonio Spurs, 57-win Orlando Magic — see ya. The 1995 team made a routine out of beating the league’s best. Just another day at the office. - DY

How the 2018 team matches up

At this point, you don’t need me to break down the 2018 team. They were incredible and deserved to win the NBA championship. It didn’t happen for them, but it absolutely should in this matchup.

As someone very much alive and cognizant during the 1995 run, I remember how special that team was. They were on the ropes multiple times and found ways to overcome five do-or-die games in the playoffs. They are not to be taken lightly.

However, the Rockets really struggled to stop guards during the playoffs. Penny Hardaway averaged 26/8/5 on 50% shooting in the Finals. Avery Johnson averaged 16/8 on 54% shooting in the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Johnson obliterated the Rockets to the tune of 28/9/4 on 58% shooting and took 22 free throws in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-finals. And John Stockton averaged 18/10 in the first round. As great as they were, Kenny Smith, Clyde Drexler, and Sam Cassell were no match for those All-Star guards.

Now ask yourself: are any of those guards that the 1995 squad struggled to contain better than Chris Paul or James Harden?

The answer is a clear and resounding no, and it’s the backbone of the 2018 team’s chance of winning this matchup. Harden and CP3 would isolate Smith over and over again until Rudy Tomjanovich would have no choice but to pull his starting point guard. Cassell was the better defender, but not good enough to slow down the two future Hall of Famers. The 2018 team would also be able to pull Hakeem Olajuwon and Robert Horry away from the rim to defend in the corners against the Tuckwagon lineup. Horry could probably play as a small-ball 5, but if the 2018 squad was making their threes, then Dream would be neutralized on defense.

On the other end, CP3 would make Smith’s life hell. Trevor Ariza would be a Drexler stopper. Eric Gordon could roam with Mario Elie. Harden could bang down low with Horry and play passing lanes.

Of course, there’s still that monster down low. It’s impossible for P.J. Tucker to slow down Hakeem Olajuwon, but Dream never beat guys with his height. Tucker would be able to play physically down low and make Dream work for his points. The rest of the 2018 team probably would allow Dream to score his points and force the 1995 team to deal with the math problem. You know, the one where 3>2.

I think there’s a bias we all have to put the championship teams above all others, but in a game between these teams, we can all easily imagine the 2018 team bombing away from deep and absolutely blowing out the 1995 champs. In fact, that’s probably the most likely outcome. - AK

X-Factor

1995 - Vernon Maxwell. Remember, each team is assumed to be at the peak of their powers, so Max isn’t suspended, but which Vernon shows up? Is it an engaged version willing to sacrifice his offense in order to make Harden, Paul, and Gordon’s lives a living hell, or is it the sulking version that felt burnt when Clyde Drexler took his job? If it’s the former, just remember that Max used to get into Michael Jordan’s head. You don’t think he’d be able to rattle Harden? If it’s the latter, well, AK’s prediction just might come true. - DY

2018 - Eric Gordon. I considered Clint Capela here, but this series probably wouldn’t feature Capela much, and even then his minutes would probably come when Olajuwon sits. Gordon could stretch the floor even more for Houston’s other guards and give them easy driving lanes. Mostly, EG would need to neutralize Mario Elie, and Gordon’s ability to score off the bounce would give him the advantage in that matchup. - AK

Poll

Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    2-seed 1995
    (152 votes)
  • 43%
    3-seed 2018
    (115 votes)
267 votes total Vote Now