14. Moses Malone leads Houston to their first NBA Finals
Back in 1981, things were a bit different in the NBA for the Rockets. As one of the newer franchises, the Rockets had never made it past the conference finals, back when the league wasn’t filled with so much talent. All of that changed after the 1980-81 campaign.
Hall of Fame big man Moses Malone found himself on the Rockets during the 1976-77 season. By Malone’s fifth season with Houston, he established himself as a dominant force in the paint.
He put up 27.8 points, a league-high 14.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game during the 1980-81 season. The Rockets finished 40-42 in the NBA standings, but their status as the No. 6 seed in the playoffs with Malone made them a dark horse to win it all.
In the first round, they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers behind 31.3 points and 17.7 rebounds per contest. In the Western Conference Semifinals, they pushed the San Antonio Spurs to seven games, winning 4-3 in the end. Malone 28.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game against George Gervin and company.
In the Western Conference Finals, the then-Kansas City Kings were no match for the Rockets, as they ran through them, 4-1. In the NBA Finals, their first trip in franchise history, they faced Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
With Bird and Cedric Maxwell, the Celtics didn’t falter, defeating the Rockets 4-2 in six games. Malone still produced 22.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game in the series loss. Despite losing in the end, it was a sign of things to come for the Houston franchise. That was for sure.