How The Rockets Staged The Most Improbable Title Run In NBA History

Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal in the 1995 NBA Finals

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Most sports fans know anything can happen once the playoffs roll around, although the definition of “anything” has historically varied a bit depending on the league in question.

Seven wild card teams have managed to win the World Series when everything was said and done, and the wildly unpredictable nature of the Stanley Cup Playoffs helped the Kings become the first eight-seed in NHL history to ever hoist that trophy after they won it all in 2012.

The NBA, on the other hand, tends to feature significantly less parity.

The league may want fans to believe the Play-In Tournament has added a new level of intrigue to the postseason, but it’s pretty hard to buy into that argument when you consider no seventh or eighth-seed has managed to secure a title in NBA history.

With that said, the NBA playoffs have still managed to spawn some fairly unlikely runs.—like the time the Knicks became the only eight-seed to make it to the Finals before they were sent home by the Spurs in five games in 1999.

However, the sixth-seeded Rockets had a much happier ending when they stunned the basketball world en route to securing a championship in 1995—and the unlikely nature of that win warrants a closer look at what went down that year.

How the Houston Rockets pulled off an upset for the ages to win an NBA title in 1995

Robert Horry celebrates after Rockets won NBA title in 1995

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The Rockets weren’t necessarily strangers to the NBA playoffs when they punched their ticket to the postseason in 1995, as the franchise had been one of the last sixteen teams left standing in eight of the previous nine seasons.

You could argue the team didn’t really deserve to be considered “underdogs” when you consider they headed into that campaign looking to defend the championship they’d won after beating the Knicks in a seven-game series the previous year.

However, it was also hard to ignore their apparent decline. Houston had been a two-seed after posting a 58-24 record the year before, but the comparatively disappointing 47-35 record they racked up the following season left a bit to be desired.

The Rockets had theoretically benefitted from the trade that resulted in Portland sending Clyde Drexler to Houston before the deadline, but they actually posted a losing record (15-18) to close out the regular season after the former Trail Blazer made his debut.

Thankfully, they started clicking at the perfect time.

The Rockets were able to eke out a win over the Jazz and advance to the second round with a four-point win in the final game of their best-of-five showdown.

Things didn’t get much easier when they faced off against the Suns, who quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series and had a few chances to put Houston away after going up 3-1. However, Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were able to step up when it really matter, as they each put up 24 points in a Game 7 contest where Houston advanced to the Western Conference Finals by winning a 115-114 nail-biter.

The Rockets were able to dispatch the top-seeded Spurs with relative ease, as they only needed six games to ensure they’d get the chance to defend their championship against the Magic in the NBA Finals.

That was much easier said than done when you consider Orlando had also secured a one-seed with the help of a guy named Shaquille O’Neal and earned the right to represent the Eastern Conference with a trio of victories that included a win over a Bulls team led by Michael Jordan in the second round.

However, Shaq and Co. were ultimately no match for a Houston squad that was firing on all cylinders in a Finals that ended after the Rockets recorded the four-game sweep that led to head coach Rudy Tomjanovich dropping a line for the ages after his team pulled off the repeat.

The Rockets remain the lowest-seeded team in NBA history to win a championship, and while that could eventually change in the future, the past suggests every team hoping to set a new mark to beat is facing quite the uphill battle.