Posted Jul 28 2011 11:50AM
The Houston Rockets entered the 1994-95 season looking to join the ranks of the last four champions, who were all able to repeat as back-to-back NBA champions. Yet by midseason, Houston hardly looked like a serious contender and was in dire need of a spark to their transition game.
The Rockets fixed what ailed them in Februrary at the trade deadline, shipping rugged power forward Otis Thorpe to Portland in a deal that put acrobatic guard Clyde Drexler back in Houston. It didn't take long for Drexler and Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon -- a teammate during their college days at the University of Houston -- to pick up where they left off so many years ago.
More big news came five months into the season. After sitting out 17 months and sending a severe case of depression through the sports world, Michael Jordan ditched his hobby, baseball, for his true love, basketball.
In March of 1995, he returned to the Bulls, this time wearing jersey No. 45 (he would later switch back to No. 23 in the playoffs).
The 1994-95 season also saw two major records fall. Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens passed the legendary Red Auerbach on the list of all-time coaching victories, while Utah's John Stockton replaced Magic Johnson as the NBA's all-time assists leader.
When Wilkens won victory number 939 in early January against the Washington Bullets to pass Auerbach, whose record had stood since the close of the 1965-66 season and Auerbach's retirement as coach of the Boston Celtics, he lit up a cigar in tribute to the man who had been the NBA's winningest coach for over three seasons.
"Red is a legend, so this is a huge achievement," Wilkens said. "When I started coaching, all of us looked at Red and thought his record was something that would stand forever."
Once the playoffs began, Jordan was shaking some rust off his game. Though the Bulls easily handled the Hornets in the first round, he struggled in that series. He didn't fare much better in the East semis against the Magic as Orlando eliminated Chicago, 4-2. From there, the Magic would topple the Pacers in Game 7 to reach their first Finals.
Out West, the Drexler-Olajuwon combo was working wonders at the right time for Houston. Though they trailed the Jazz 2-1 in the first round, the Rockets rallied to claim that series in Game 5. In the West semis, they fell behind again -- this time it was a 3-1 hole to the Suns. But once again, the Rockets pushed the series to the brink and advanced in Game 7. In the West finals, Olajuwon's trademark footwork and quickness was too much for MVP David Robinson and the Spurs as the Rockets reached their second straight Finals.
The 1995 NBA Finals came down to youth versus experience as Olajuwon squared off against the Magic's budding star center, Shaquille O'Neal. Olajuwon claimed a second straight Finals MVP and the Rockets forever etched their name in playoff lore. They became the first team to win four series without homecourt advantage, the first No. 6 seed to win the title and the first team to defeat four 50-win teams en route to a title. It was also only the sixth Finals sweep in history.
The champion remained the same, but the season was marked by many changes. The league introduced new rules, including a shorter 3-point line designed to invite more scoring and reduce the defensive and physical mentality that had crept into the game and slowed the pace. And exciting new stars were born, led by Detroit's Grant Hill and Dallas' Jason Kidd, the league's first co-rookie of the year winners since 1970-71, when Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie shared the honor.
Eastern Conference first round
Orlando defeated Boston (3-1)
Indiana defeated Atlanta (3-0)
New York defeated Cleveland (3-1)
Chicago defeated Charlotte (3-1)
Western Conference first round
San Antonio defeated Denver (3-0)
Phoenix defeated Portland (3-0)
Houston defeated Utah (3-2)
L.A. Lakers defeated Seattle (3-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Indiana defeated New York (4-3)
Orlando defeated Chicago (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
San Antonio defeated L.A. Lakers (4-2)
Houston defeated Phoenix (4-3)
Eastern Conference finals
Orlando defeated Indiana (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Houston defeated San Antonio (4-2)
Houston defeated Orlando (4-0)
PPG -- Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando Magic (29.3)
FG % -- Chris Gatling, Golden State Warriors (.633)
FT % -- Spud Webb, Sacramento Kings (.934)
3PT % -- Steve Kerr, Chicago Bulls (.523)
Assists -- John Stockton, Utah Jazz (12.3)
Rebounds -- Dennis Rodman, San Antonio Spurs (16.8)
Steals -- Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls (2.9)
Blocked Shots -- Dikembe Mutombo, Denver Nuggets (3.9)
Most Valuable Player -- David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs
Rookie of the Year -- Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons & Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks
Defensive Player of the Year -- Dikembe Mutombo, Denver Nuggets
Most Improved Player -- Dana Barros, Philadelphia 76ers
Sixth Man of the Year -- Anthony Mason, New York Knicks
Coach of the Year -- Del Harris, L.A. Lakers
All-Star Game MVP -- Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls
NBA Finals MVP -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
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