The 2005 first-round series between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks is probably my earliest basketball memory — and now that I say that, is it wrong that I don’t remember ANY basketball before the age of 11? Anyways, I vividly remember two things from that series: the first being the Tracy McGrady baptism of Shawn Bradley (see that here), and the second being my dad and uncle’s frustrations with weak calls.
After the Rockets had taken a 2-0 lead against the homecourt-having Mavericks, the games were called more tightly, specifically on Yao Ming. My dad, like all homers, believe it was a fix. That Mavs team would go on the claim four of the next five games and then get bounced by the Phoenix Suns in the next round.
Years later, there was vindication for tin-foil hat Houston sports fans everywhere. A FIX. Disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy gave Rockets faithful a pleasure few fanbases ever get to experience: they were right. At the time of his court hearing, Donaghy’s legal team, without ever saying names, detailed an instance in 2005 in which a fix took place:
“Team 3 lost the first two games in the series and Team 3’s owner complained to NBA officials. Team 3’s owner alleged that referees were letting a Team 4 player get away with illegal screens. NBA Executive Y told Referee Supervisor Z that the referees for that game were to enforce the screening rules strictly against that Team 4 player. The referees followed the league’s instructions and Team 3 came back from behind to win the series. The NBA benefited from this because it prolonged the series, resulting in more tickets sold and more televised games.”
These teams were later deduced to be Rockets-Mavs. To add insult to injury, Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 (Yes, 100k!) during the series for suggesting the officials were intentionally targeting Yao, which we now know he was 100-percent correct.
But vindication doesn’t always mean satisfaction. Would you have rather beaten that Mavericks team or lose due to a fix just to later have the NBA get its comeuppance? You’d rather win.
What If the 2005 Rockets-Mavericks series wasn’t fixed?
For starters, the Rockets would have won in six games, possibly even five. Games 2-5 were incredibly close, with the largest margin of victory being four points in Games 3 and 4. But three of those games were fixed, of course.
In a world where we give the 58-win Mavericks their credit for being a good team, which there were, they fairly walk out with victories in Games 3 and 5. They’re a good team, so they can take the first one on the road — the one where the Rockets are a little too fat and happy — and of course, Game 5, they take one at home.
Game 4, on the other hand, is the one that goes the other way for Houston. True to the nature of why we’re here, Yao Ming remained in foul trouble the entirety of this game, logging only 26 minutes of playing time (but still managing to tally 20 points and five blocks on 6-7 shooting). Yao was called for two offensive fouls, including one that was his fifth foul with 9:03 left in the game and Houston up by five.
Granted, this game was a late blown lead by Houston, but that’s not the point of this. In a world where this series was never fixed, these games go much differently. If fact, there was no point in me giving you the cliff notes of what happened in game four. None of that matters. The Rockets had the Mavericks’ number that series, and it would have been over in six. It’s not too surprising that after Dallas got their 3-2 series lead, the were blown out in game five by Houston.
The Rockets move on to round two.
Now, we get into the good stuff. What does Houston do against Phoenix in the conference semis? Well... absolutely nothing.
Oh, sorry, I hope you didn’t expect more from this. Let’s be honest, the seven-seconds-or-less Suns were a matchup problem for the Rockets. Houston didn’t have the legs for that team, and Phoenix was the superior squad. They won 62 games and ran their first two playoff opponents out of the building. Houston wouldn’t have stood a chance.
But, again, happy endings are not the point of the What If machine. It’s literally asking you What If?
So, in this scenario, the fix is off, the Rockets beat their in-state rival and get some fun bragging rights over them, and then they’re stopped by a superior team.
Would it all be worth changing the past just to win a playoff series? Against the Mavs? You’re damn right it would be.