The Rockets made it two NBA Finals in the 80s but came up short, continuing the trend of disappointing sports moments in Houston. When Don Cheaney was fired and Rudy Tomjanovich took over in 1992, the Rockets narrowly missed earning a playoff berth.
A footnote to that season that isn’t brought up nearly enough is the final game of the 1992-93 season against the San Antonio Spurs. In that finale, there was a controversial tip dunk at the end of the game by David Robinson that shouldn’t have counted (another incorrectly called dunk against the Spurs — sound familiar?)
I asked Matt Bullard, who was on that team, about the play.
Yes! It was clearly after the buzzer. I remember it well cuz I hit a 3 the previous play to give us the lead (or tie?). I also recall the clock not starting right away on the Robinson play and RudyT seeing it on video in the locker room after the game. We were all very upset!
— Matt Bullard (@bull50) May 12, 2020
With that loss, the Rockets finished with the same record as the Seattle SuperSonics and lost the tie-breaker. This, of course, came back to haunt them in a Game 7 overtime loss that would’ve otherwise been played at home. Even with this heartbreak, though, the Rockets knew they had something special.
The following season, the Rockets started fast by winning their first 15 games and rolled into the playoffs as the number two seed.
Clutch City was born from what initially began as another chapter in Houston sports disappointment. Having homecourt advantage and double-digit leads in both games, the Rockets lost the first two games against the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the 1994 playoffs.
After the second game, the headline in the local paper simply said “Choke City”. The Rockets, at the time, had blown the most significant fourth-quarter lead in NBA history. The third game started like the previous two ended — with the Rockets falling behind.
In the second half, Vernon Maxwell had the best half of his playoff career, scoring 30 points to bring the Rockets back, and Clutch City was born. Houston went on to win the series and continue onto the NBA Finals, winning in seven over the New York Knicks.
In 1995, the Rockets won their second championship and cemented their place in NBA history. Unfortunately, an old nemesis would resurface in the 1996 playoffs, and it was the beginning of the end for Clutch City.
Next: Injuries, Trades, and Failed Experiments