Houston Rockets: 15 greatest playoff moments of all-time

By Jerran Anderson
Houston Rockets. (Photo by NBA Photos/ NBAE/ Getty Images)
Houston Rockets. (Photo by NBA Photos/ NBAE/ Getty Images) /
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Charles Barkley, Houston Rockets
Charles Barkley, Houston Rockets. ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images /

15. Veterans lead the way to the 1997 Western Conference Finals

Towards the tail end of their careers, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley nearly made a trip to the NBA Finals. The Rockets had struggled in the previous postseason, but help was on the way for Olajuwon and company, even after winning back-to-back titles.

After getting swept in the 1996 Western Conference Semifinals by the then-Seattle SuperSonics, the Rockets traded for Barkley in the offseason. After the trade, they saw instant success, going 57-25 and finishing third in the playoff standings.

Despite being the No. 3 seed, Houston showed extra poise with the veteran presence of Drexler, Olajuwon and Barkley during the regular season and it showed in the result. Barkley only appeared in 53 total games during the 1996-97 season, but he still produced 19.2 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per contest.

In the playoffs, they swept the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round, 3-0. In the semifinals, the faced the SuperSonics once again, but in seven games, they prevailed, though 25-year-old Matt Maloney was the unsung hero of the series victory.

He averaged 12.6 points per game on 40.7 percent shooting from behind the arc. In Game 4, he drained eight 3-pointers on his way to 24 points in a thrilling 110-106 overtime victory.

The veteran trio of Drexler, Olajuwon and Barkley lost in the Western Conference Finals in six games to the Utah Jazz, but their run to the brink spoke on their ability to play well despite aging bodies.