On paper, the rosters of the Houston Rockets’ two championship teams were fairly similar, but how would they stack up against each other?
June 14th marked the 25-year anniversary of the Houston Rockets securing their second NBA title in two years. Led by the duo of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, the Rockets cruised to a four-game sweep over Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic.
The year before, the Rockets team that had a much better record (at 58-24) was pushed to seven games but ultimately overcame the New York Knicks for their first-ever NBA crown. Given that only one regular season passed between the two championships, much of the roster was still the same for both teams, but there were some key differences.
After Otis Thorpe had played a big role in Houston’s first title run, he was traded for Clyde Drexler in 1995 to help boost the Rockets’ so-so season. The 3-point specialist Matt Bullard was also a member of the first team but played overseas during the Rockets’ second run.
Vernon Maxwell, while still on the roster for the team’s second NBA title, had been given a leave of absence after the first game of the playoffs, in which he faked an injury due to being upset about losing his starting job to Clyde Drexler.
For the purposes of simulating a seven-game series between these two title teams, I used a site called WhatIfSports (shout-out to Dylan Carter at Air Alamo for the suggestion), which allows you to pit historic teams up against each other.
The site uses a heavy emphasis on statistics from Basketball-Reference.com to take both player and team statistics into account to make an educated guess on how a game or series would play out.
To make the simulation as realistic as possible, I plugged in the average minutes each Rocket played in their respective NBA Finals. The starters for the 1994 squad are: Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith. The starters for the 1995 team are: Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Horry, Clyde Drexler, Mario Elie and Kenny Smith.
Let’s break down how the games went in the simulation.