No more talk of one-title wonders.
Driven by an electrifying center and sparked by the return of a favorite son, the Houston Rockets completed the unlikeliest of NBA championship repeats, sweeping the Orlando Magic with a 113-101 victory Wednesday night.
Clamping down on defense, the Rockets pulled away in the final period from Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic, whose youth and inexperience overshadowed their considerable talent in this series.
Hakeem Olajuwon, the Most Valuable Player, finished with 35 points and 15 rebounds and capped the night with another unlikely occurrence - a 3-pointer with 11.5 seconds left.
As the buzzer sounded and fireworks and confetti showered the court, Houston joined such recent consecutive title winners as the Bulls, the Lakers and the Pistons.
Those teams had Michael, Magic, Kareem and Isiah. This team has Hakeem, who topped 30 points in each game of the series.
Unlike last year, Olajuwon shared this championship with his college teammate and the city’s hometown hero, Clyde Drexler, who after 12 seasons in the NBA savored his first taste of a title.
Drexler, who missed winning the 1983 NCAA championship with Olajuwon at the University of Houston and made two unsuccessful trips to the NBA Finals with Portland, had 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. He joined the Rockets following a Feb. 14 trade.
“How sweet it is!” he said as the championship trophy was presented by NBA commissioner David Stern.
Mario Elie added 22 points and Horry 21.
“People doubted us,” Horry said. “It’s just so unbelievable. We just got to try to do it again next year.”
Leading by one at the end of the third quarter, Houston got two big 3-pointers from Elie early in the fourth, and Olajuwon scored six straight points to stretch the lead to 101-89 with 3:16 to play.
For the Magic, whose joyride through the playoffs ended jarringly, O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway had 25 points each.
“I just want to congratulate Hakeem,” O’Neal said. “We didn’t give up at all. I’m a young player, I’ll be in this position many times.”
It was the first sweep since 1989, when Detroit blanked the Lakers, and made Houston the fourth team in the last nine years to win back-toback titles.
They won just 47 regular-season games, making them a sixth seed in the power-packed Western Conference. To get here, they upset Utah, Phoenix and San Antonio, each with at least 59 wins and each with the home-court advantage.
All three teams were considered to have legitimate shots at winning it all. Not Houston, though.
Not only were the Rockets the lowest seed ever to win the title, they also won an NBA record nine times on the road along the way, including seven straight.
“No team’s done what this team’s done,” Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. “We won nine road games and had non-believers along the way. I want to tell the nonbelievers something: Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”
Underestimating the Rockets might have been just the problem for the Magic, who never recovered from a 120-118 overtime loss in Game 1. Their season ended the way their last one did, with a sweep.