With the Houston Rockets set to take on the New York Knicks tonight, a visit back to the 1994 NBA Finals is in order.
After the announcement of Michael Jordan’s first retirement from the NBA, the league was supposed to belong to Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. However, Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets had other ideas. This wasn’t the first time both big men had faced off in a big game. Just 10 years earlier. Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas got the best of Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars in the 1984 NCAA Championship. As Ewing would come to learn, it’s a lot harder when all the marbles aren’t all on the line in one game.
The 1994 NBA Finals was one of the most defensive minded series of all time. Each game was decided by a margin of under 10 points, making each possession ever so precious. For the first time since the invention of the shot clock, neither team scored 100 points in any game. Here’s a quick recap of one of the closest contended Finals in NBA history.
Rockets win 85-78
In Game 1, both teams debuted the the rugged style that would define this series, combining for just 63 total points in the second half. The Rockets were able to keep the Knicks at bay for the whole second half and used Hakeem Olajuwon’s 28 points to help secure the win.
Knicks win 91-83
For the only time all series, a team shot over 50 percent from the field. The Knicks, led by John Starks’ 19 points and 9 assists, used their scoring percentage to even up the series before heading back to New York.
Rockets win 93-89
Olajuwon led the Rockets in points (21), rebounds (11), and assists (7), but it was rookie Sam Cassell who sealed the game by scoring seven straight points in the final 32.6 seconds. The Garden crowd would have to wait another game before seeing the first Knicks home win in the Finals in 21 years.
Knicks win 91-82
Before Game 4, the Knicks received a speech from captain Mark Messier of the New York Rangers, who had just won the city’s first Stanley Cup since 1940. With the Madison Square Garden hallways still reeking of champagne from the prior night’s celebration, the Knicks came out well motivated, winning the game by the series’ largest margin.
Knicks win 91-84
As if the Larry O’Brien trophy wasn’t enough motivation, both teams attended the Rangers ticker-tape parade earlier in the day to serve as further incentive. This game will mostly be remembered for the untimely interruption by O.J. Simpson’s car chase, but the Knicks were able to come away with a win, led by Ewing’s 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Rockets win 86-84
The Knicks came within inches of winning their first championship in over 20 years, but Olajuwon was able to deflect away a Starks three as time expired. It felt like it was going to be New York’s night, especially when Starks dropped in 16 of his team-high 27 points in the fourth quarter, but the Garden crowd, who were ready to blow the roof off the building, would have to wait another day to see their team win it all.
Rockets win 90-84
This was the ultimate heartbreaker for New Yorkers. A miserable shooting night from Starks proved to be the determining factor . Riley didn’t have too many options off the bench, forcing him to keep feeding his streaky shooting guard, who wound up shooting 2-18 on the night, including 0-11 from three. Olajuwon unsurprisingly led the way with 25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks, and the first of his two NBA championships.
Almost 20 years later, it’s a lot easier to say that the Rockets were the better team and deserved the victory. Hakeem Olajuwon was named league MVP, NBA Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-NBA that year, and it’s always tough to say that any losing team should have won when their fate was decided on the court in a Game 7. Houston would go on to repeat the very next season, before Jordan returned to hog all the championships for himself, once again.
Meanwhile, the Knicks wouldn’t see another NBA Finals until 1999, when they were quickly put away by David Robinson, TIm Duncan, and the San Antonio Spurs. The 1994 Finals proved to be their best shot since winning it all in 1973. The opportunity was so close, yet so far. To this day, the wait continues.