Throwback Thursday: Houston Rockets Upset the Champs


The Houston Rockets in 1986 were a team on the rise, (sound familiar) only a couple years removed from a 14 win season. The slogan “Red Nation Rising” in 1986 would conjure up thoughts of Mother Russia, and the cold war. Houston was lead by head coach Bill Fitch, who took the majority of the accolades for turning the team around. Of course, the back-to-back #1 NBA draft picks for the Rockets didn’t hurt either. Ralph Sampson, and then (H)Akeem Olajuwon united to give the Rockets one of the best front courts in the NBA.  The Rockets “Twin Towers”  were accompanied by Robert Reid, Rodney McCray, and Lewis Lloyd, and Mitchell Wiggins. 4 solid players that added all the other necessary components to making a great basketball team.

Rockets Frontcourt: Sampson, Olajuwon, McCray

Surprisingly the 86′ Rockets had made it to the Western Conference Finals to face off against the previous seasons champs the Los Angeles Lakers. If you are a fan of the NBA, then the Lakers lineup is as recognizable as a McDonalds menu. Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, and lead by Pat Riley.

Houston would lose Game 1, 119-107. The loss came largely due to Magic Johnson’s 26 points, and 18 dimes. Pat Riley also switched Magic onto Robert Reid. Reid was forced to pick up Magic on the defensive switch and he had his way with him. Lewis Lloyd had been the person tasked with defended Magic, and the switch confused things early on. (H)Akeem did not disappoint in Game 1 or throughout the series, scoring 28 points and grabbing 16 boards.

Game 2 would display the true potential of the “Twin Towers” as Sampson and Olajuwon would combine for 46 points, 29 boards, and 11 blocks. The Rockets would take Game 2 112-110. Magic continued to rack up the dimes in the loss with 19.

Game 3 would bring another incredible performance from Olajuwon as he out dueled Kareem, scoring 40 points, while Kareem put up 33 points. The Rockets would win Game 3 in Houston and take the series lead 2-1. Magic finished with 20 dimes.

In Game 4, the Lakers got another huge heaping of the Dream, as Olajuwon finished with 35 points, 11 boards, and 4 blocks. Magic picked up his first triple-double of the series in the loss. The Lakers failed to get to 100 points for the first time during the series losing 105-95. With Houston up 3-1 the series headed back to the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and one of the greatest moments in Rockets history was soon to be reality.

The Lakers were down 3-1, and at this time in NBA history the come back from down 3-1 was without precedent. Los Angeles had to not only win Game 5, but fly back to Houston, win Game 6, then return to LA and win again. Most of game 5 was parallel with what had gone on all series, Olajuwon being unstoppable, and Magic handing out buckets. With 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter and the Rockets down 4, Olajuwon, who had 30 points at the time was attempting to post up Lakers bench warmer Mitch Kupchak. Mitch is currently the Lakers general manager, but at this time he was defending Olajuwon in the post. Mitch placed his right forearm onto Olajuwon’s back, but had it abruptly knocked off by the Dream. Then suddenly “as if instructed” to do so, Kupchak swing a left right into Olajuwon’s chest, prompting Olajuwon to immediately swing back. Referee Jess Kersey intervened by running full speed into Olajuwon tackling him into the Lakers bench. After everyone was broken up, and the two teams calmed down, Olajuwon, and Kupchak were ejected. Olajuwon was escorted off the court by Rockets assistant coach Rudy Tomjanovich…irony.

Houston remained focus and tied the game at 112 with 1….just 1 second left on the clock.

Houston would win the series with the Rockets shooting 4 of 14 from the three point line for THE ENTIRE SERIES!!

Lewis Lloyd

Houston would eventually lose to the Celtics in the Finals but the upset, showed the potential the Rockets were capable of. Unfortunately Lewis Lloyd, and Mitchell Wiggins two key members of the Rockets lineup tested positive for cocaine incurring a two 1/2-year suspension from the league, and destroying the teams chemistry.

At least until the 92-93′ season.