Hakeem Olajuwon and Robert Horry finally put an end to the homecourt madness in the West, and the Houston Rockets are headed back to the NBA Finals.
Olajuwon had 39 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks as the Rockets beat San Antonio 100-95 Thursday night to win the Western Conference finals 4-2.
“You can’t underestimate the heart of a champion,” Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. “I’m probably the proudest man in the world right now.”
Horry scored 22 points and sank six 3-pointers, the last with 1:58 left to put Houston ahead 97-93, then clinched the victory by making two free throws with 13 seconds to play.
It took six tries, but a home team finally won in the Western Conference finals.
Tomjanovich leaped in the air at the final buzzer, and the team and crowd rushed the court. The crowd had been shouting “MVP, MVP” throughout the game for Olajuwon, last year’s most valuable player who consistently outplayed this year’s choice, David Robinson, in this series.
“I have never seen anybody on this planet play as well as this guy (Olajuwon),” Houston’s Clyde Drexler said. “He is phenomenal, night in and night out. He does it so easily people come to expect it. That’s the ultimate.”
Robinson scored 19 for San Antonio but missed two free throws and committed a fatal turnover in the final 1:06. Avery Johnson had 19 points and 10 assists for the Spurs. Sean Elliott scored 18.
Dennis Rodman had 14 points and 17 rebounds for the Spurs, who had felt anything but a title would be a disappointment after they won an NBA-best 62 games during the regular season.
“It’s a crummy way to end a good year,” Robinson said.
The Rockets open the NBA Finals on Wednesday against Orlando or Indiana on the home court of the Eastern Conference champions. But that shouldn’t bother Houston, which didn’t have the home-court edge in any of the first three rounds.
“The first time is always the best,” Olajuwon said in comparing this victory with last year’s. “But this is wonderful.”
Houston, which finished sixth in the West, tied the 1981 Rockets as the lowest seeded team to reach the finals. The Rockets won three games in San Antonio in the conference finals before breaking through with a victory at the Summit.
“It was nice to play well at home for once,” Drexler said.
But, as usual, the Rockets couldn’t do it the easy way.
After Drexler stole Robinson’s pass and found Mario Elie for a layup with 5:56 to play, Houston led 92-83. The packed house at the Summit, which hadn’t had much to cheer in two straight losses to the Spurs in Houston, was deafening.
But Doc Rivers, who was in the NBA Finals a year ago with the New York Knicks, brought San Antonio back. He scored seven during a 10-0 run. Robinson capped the rally by making 1 of 2 free throws to put the Spurs ahead 93-92 with 2:42 remaining.
Robinson drew his fifth foul with 9:48 to play, went to the bench, but came back for what probably were the most miserable 6 minutes, 15 seconds of his career.
Drexler, who came to his hometown in a Valentine’s Day trade to join Olajuwon, his Phi Slama Jama college teammate, in the dream of winning his first title, made two free throws to put the Rockets ahead for good 94-93 with 2 1/2 minutes to play.
“We were in position to take it,” Spurs coach Bob Hill said. “We just couldn’t finish it.”
Robinson, who was just 6 of 17 from the field, 0 of 3 in the final quarter, missed inside, then Horry made his final 3-pointer to make it 97-93. Discounting Horry, the rest of the Rockets were 2 of 19 from 3-point range.
Robinson missed two free throws with 1:06 remaining.
After Sam Cassell made one of two free throws, Rodman’s rebound basket with 28 seconds to go kept San Antonio’s fading hopes alive. But Rodman fouled Horry, who made both free throws.
Hill remained as befuddled as ever over the bizarre tone of the series, with the home team unable to win until Thursday night.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a thing. If I knew the answer I would have tried to solve it.”
Rockets 100, Spurs 95
SAN ANTONIO (95)
Elliott 6-15 5-6 18, Rodman 7-9 0-0 14, Robinson 6-17 7-12 19, Del Negro 3-9 4-5 10, Johnson 8-12 3-6 19, Person 2-3 0-0 4, Rivers 2-5 2-2 7, Reid 1-2 0-0 2, Cummings 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 36-74 21-31 95.
Elie 3-5 0-0 7, Horry 7-16 2-3 22, Olajuwon 16-25 7-8 39, Drexler 6-16 4-6 16, Smith 2-8 1-2 6, Cassell 3-10 4-7 10, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 37-81 18-26 100.
San Antonio 21 23 31 20 - 95 Houston 21 23 32 24 - 100
3-Point goals-San Antonio 2-7 (Elliott 1-3, Rivers 1-3, Person 0-1), Houston 8-30 (Horry 6-11, Elie 1-3, Smith 1-7, Olajuwon 0-1, Drexler 0-4, Cassell 0-4). Fouled out-None. Rebounds- San Antonio 49 (Rodman 17), Houston 51 (Olajuwon 17). Assists-San Antonio 20 (Johnson 10), Houston 25 (Drexler 7). Total fouls-San Antonio 22, Houston 25. Technicals-San Antonio illegal defense. Flagrant foul-Rodman. A-16,611 (16,611).