4. What if Stockton misses series-ending buzzer-beater in 1997 WCF?
Following the Houston Rockets’ consecutive championships between 1993-94 and 1994-95, the Rockets underwent significant changes. The Rockets lost Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, and Kenny Smith following the 1995-96 season, which was a blow to their depth. In their final season together, the Rockets won 48 games and reached the Western Conference Semifinals before being swept by the then Seattle Supersonics.
Following the disappointing defeat, the Rockets added Hall of Fame forward Charles Barkley, who was coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 23.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Barkley made yet another All-Star appearance during his first season in Space City, and averaged 13.5 rebounds per game, which were the second-most of his career.
Barkley and the Rockets didn’t need much time to adjust to one another, as they won 57 games in the first season with Barkley, which was good for the third seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets swept the Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening round of the playoffs and won a tough seven-game series against the Seattle Supersonics in the Western Conference Semifinals.
This meant the Rockets would face the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals, which was a tough matchup. The Jazz were up 3-2 heading into Game 6, which was played in Houston. The game went back and forth, but was ultimately tied 100-100 with two seconds remaining.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan took a timeout and the Rockets made a substitution by replacing Eddie Johnson for Mario Elie, which made sense considering how Elie was a much better defender than Johnson. In spite of the defensive adjustment, the Houston Rockets were ultimately dealt a dagger by John Stockton, who drained a cold-blooded walk-off 3-pointer.
Sloan designed a play to get Stockton the ball out of the timeout off a screen, and Barkley ultimately didn’t close out in time. This gave Stockton enough space to get off a dagger, which saw the Rockets’ season end on their home floor.
Rockets fans have to wonder what would have happened if they won this game. Would they have won Game 7 and advanced to the NBA Finals? There’s an even bigger “what-if” attached to that potential outcome as well.
If the Rockets would have advanced to the NBA Finals, it would have been their first NBA Finals matchup against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, which Rockets fans have always wanted to see. This would have been a chance for the Rockets to prove the skeptics wrong, as it’s been universally accepted that the Rockets only won their two titles because they didn’t have to face Jordan.
We’ll never know whether that was true because Stockton ruined the Rockets’ only chance for this matchup.
Next: No. 3