It’s our opening matchup of the first round of our Greatest Rockets Team of All-time bracket, where you get to pick the winner. We have the 1994 championship squad taking on the team from 2015 that made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. This is a 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup, but the ‘94 team won 58 games and the ‘15 team won 56, so this could be more interesting than maybe initially thought. Assume both teams are the best versions of themselves before voting.
How the 2015 team matches up
It’s hard to go against the original Champs in Round 1, but in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.
The styles of play between the ‘94 team and the ‘15 team could not be any more different. The ‘94 squad’s identity was defense, whereas the ‘15 squad was an offensive juggernaut. The team led the league in three-pointers made during the season, James Harden’s first trip to the Conference Finals with the Rockets.
But the team also had defensive pieces that could give an opponent fits. Trevor Ariza would guard Robert Horry on the wing and Patrick Beverley would attempt to stunt the offense at the top of the key led by Kenny Smith. While not in his prime, former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard would defend Hakeem Olajuwon. Of course the Dream wins the battle, but you could certainly have worse players defending Olajuwon.
The team also had many surprises off the bench, highlighted during Game 6 of the Conference Semifinals against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers. The team overcame a double-digit deficit in the late third quarter to then win by double digits on the road in an elimination game. The 2015 team knew pressure. What ultimately stopped them was the core of the greatest regular season team ever in the Warriors, who would go on to win 73 regular season games the following year.
If the team could pull that off in what some would call an “upset,” what makes you think they can’t do the same against the Clutch City Rockets? - JB
How the 1994 team matches up
The 1994 squad could put the absolute clamps down defensively, finishing the year ranked second in the league in defensive rating with a sparkling 101.4. They’re going to be really tough to score on. Dwight Howard’s rudimentary post game will be completely neutralized by Hakeem Olajuwon, while 1994 also has one of the best options to throw at James Harden.
Vernon Maxwell routinely gave Michael Jordan fits, and he can do the same to The Beard. Harden will still get his, but Mad Max only has to make it tough on Harden, and rest assured that he will. Max’s biggest strength was feeling in his own heart that he was always better than the competition, no matter the opponent, and he’ll talk shit all night, he’ll body up tight on The Beard, and likely play a little bit dirty. Harden’s known to be cool as cucumber, but Max has that je ne sais quoi to get under anyone’s skin. Get Harden out of his rhythm even just a little, and where else does the 2015 team turn to for points?
1994 was a versatile squad that out-muscled the New York Knicks in the Finals, out-worked the Utah Jazz in the West Finals, and out run-and-gunned the Phoenix Suns in the Western Semifinals, so they shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to the faster pace of a modern team. 1994 started Otis Thorpe at power forward, but if you don’t think they would be able to space the floor, you’re sorely mistaken.
With both Robert Horry and Matt Bullard on the team, this squad had some of the original stretch fours if needed, but the 2015 played mostly in a traditional fashion, with D-12, Donatas Motiejunas, and Terrence Jones. If 2015 stays traditional, how do they compete with Dream and OT?
Howard was still good enough to make Dream work, but does anyone out there think he stops peak Olajuwon? And If 2015 wants to space the floor with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, 1994 can do that too.
Too deep and too versatile offensively, and too rugged defensively. - DY
1994 - Guard play. 1994 wasn’t exactly known for their guard play, and the backcourt took a drubbing at times in the Finals against the New York Knicks, but after Harden (who’ll be stuck to like glue by Mad Max), 2015 is sporting Patrick Beverley, Jason Terry, and Pablo Prigioni. Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, and Scott Brooks should be able to take advantage of that group. - DY
2015 - James Harden has to be electric if he wants to win this game, just like he did in his battles with the Warriors. He wasn’t always on top of his game, which ultimately led to eliminations at the hands of the Warriors. If the 2015 Rockets want any chance in this hypothetical matchup, it comes down to The Beard. - JB
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Who wins this matchup?
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