1993 Playoffs Retrospective Part VII: Houston And Seattle Stage A Classic

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In this week's edition, we look back at a forgotten second-round classic between two evenly-matched teams that practically defined the common use of the phrase "Game 7."

If the blogosphere existed in 1993, NBA bloggers would be going crazy over the second-round series between the Houston Rockets and Seattle Supersonics. There are so many reasons for this. Here are just a few reasons why the matchup provided a lot of sizzle.

  • These were two teams on the rise, neither of whom were serious contenders the year before.
  • They both won 55 games, so it was a very even matchup.
  • Both had a legitimate chance to top Phoenix if they got by San Antonio. Since January 5, the two teams were a combined 5-0 against Phoenix in the regular season.
  • It was new blood against new blood. Neither team won 50 games the year before, and neither was among the top four seeds either.
  • It was a matchup of contrasts. Houston had the major advantage inside with Hakeem Olajuwon against the Sonics' small inside players, but Seattle had the major advantage with their pressure defense against Houston's erratic guards. Size vs. speed.
  • The extracurricular storylines were great. Olajuwon was seeking even more redemption following his amazing comeback year, while Seattle was looking to break through and join the NBA's elite far earlier than anyone expected.

With these storylines in mind, the series to this point was kind of a dud. It went seven games, but it was a seven-game series like that god-awful Heat-Hawks series in 2009. The games weren't competitive, with the home team winning by double digits each time. Prior to Game 5, the Rockets were ridding momentum from two easy wins in Houston. They ended up getting spanked by 25 points. Seattle took that momentum and promptly lost by 13 in Houston.

That left Game 7 as the final chance for this series to really live up to the hype. In the end, it did just that with a thrilling, if controversial result.

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Pregame: We're live from Seattle Coliseum, which we've established is really loud. The signs aren't as wild as the ones we saw for Game 5 of their first-round series against the Utah Jazz, but they're still pretty fun. Also, there's a blimp!

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It's a Game 7, so there's a lot of talk on the NBC broadcast about this being one game that's the most important one game in the history of the one games the two teams will play in this series of one games. This is our first chance to hear Magic Johnson do color commentary in this series, which means it's our first chance to hear about how this is going to be a heavyweight fight. To illustrate the importance of the Rockets hanging around early, Johnson ducks his shoulder, then gets up to demonstrate avoiding the knock out. I get it, Magic. Thanks.

Here is a summary of Magic's pre-game commentary in a bunch of pictures.

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I tried to follow the words he was saying, but his faces distracted me. MagicJohnsonfaces.tumblr.com would have been a great website in 1993.

Seattle starts Gary Payton, Ricky Pierce, Derrick McKey, Shawn Kemp and Sam Perkins, while Houston counters with Kenny Smith, a now-healthy Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe and Olajuwon.

First quarter

12:00: "This is what Game 7 is all about, being physical and aggressive, so what team is the most physical and the most aggressive in this first quarter..." you know what, I can't keep doing this to you, Magic.

11:15 "They must run, but they must walk it up and slow this pace down..." dammit, I did it again.

9:41: Olajuwon shows Perkins the ball, drives around him and dishes to Thorpe for a dunk. Keep in mind: this is a center against the most agile defender of centers in the league. Rockets lead early by five. Seattle's baseline screens are moving at the speed of a turtle.

9:13: Enberg just referred to Horry as "The Rookie" for the second time in the first three minutes of the game.

8:14: Pierce lowers his shoulder on Maxwell to create space and is called for the offensive foul. Houston's transition defense has been really on-point.

7:24: Good Vernon Maxwell has shown up thus far, as he puts a beautiful crossover move on Payton in transition and feeds Thorpe for a dunk. Rockets lead, 12-5. Seattle is sluggish, just like they were early in Game 5 against Utah.

2:58: The next few minutes are more of the same, so we're skipping ahead. Houston now has a 10-point lead, and Pierce is furrowing his brow.

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2:25: Magic is berating Michael Cage for shooting a jump shot. "You can take that shot in Game 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, but not in Game 7, because you know you can't make that shot anyway." If he really can't make that shot, like ever, then he shouldn't take it in games 1-6 either.

1:44: Finally, a Sonics fast break!

7.1: Bad decisions! First, the Sonics don't go for a two-for-one, and then Maxwell jacks a contested three with 7.1 seconds left for no reason. Both teams still manage to score on rebounds. Rockets lead, 26-18, after one. Enberg calls Horry a rookie for the third time.

Second Quarter

11:48: Enberg says the upcoming Bulls-Knicks Eastern Conference Finals will likely decide the NBA title, then adds that the three remaining Western Conference teams will disagree with that. Magic feels the need to jump in and say, "Especially Phoenix." Why, Magic? Why especially Phoenix?

11:05: "The Nigerian Nightmare" would be an awesome nickname for Olajuwon if he didn't already have one of the greatest nicknames of all time.

4:30: We're skipping ahead again, because the entire game continues to follow the same pattern. Houston keeps slowing the tempo, and nobody except Pierce is playing for Seattle. It's the Utah game all over again.

4:05: Maxwell's smile is as creepy as you'd expect.

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3:20: Olajuwon is completely dominating defensively. Look how high Pierce has to loft this ball off the glass just to avoid him. (And yes, I'm stealing Steve Jones' point)

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2:38: Finally, a turnover and a fast-break layup!

2:29: Maxwell takes a horrible three-point shot with McKey in his face off a bad pass from Kenny Smith. Somehow, it goes in to quiet the crowd. Magic describes the play as follows:

"It was a beautiful dribble penetration by Kenny Smith, and then he kicked it back out to Maxwell for an easy three-point shot."

OK, boss. On the next possession, Maxwell gets a runout for a layup, and Houston leads by 11. Danger time. Nate McMillan is down on the floor, and Enberg makes another boxing analogy.

1:35: Obligatory "WHERE would the Sonics BEEEE without RICKY PIERCE" reference.

50.7: Payton blows a layup on a fast break off a steal. Him and Kemp are totally out of it.

38.3: "For Kenny's a jolly good fellow, for Kenny's a jolly good fellow, for Kenny's a jolly good feeellllloooowwww."

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0.07: Matt Bullard hits a three and the Rockets take a 10-point halftime lead. Huge shot. Huuuuuuge shot. Pierce has 14 of the Sonics' 38 points.

Third Quarter

11:35: Kemp sets the tone early by snatching a rebound away from Olajuwon and hitting two free throws. It's a good omen.

10:25: McKey blows a point-blank layup, leading to a Maxwell fast break. I don't care how good McKey was defensively; the upgrade from him to Detlef Schrempf was massive.

10:09: The Sonics are roughly 4-362 on shots at the rim in this game. On the flip side, I'm impressed with how they're disguising their illegal zone defense.

8:48: Double-teaming off Pierce in this game is a pretty poor idea. Pierce hits the three, and suddenly it's a four-point game. This isn't the Sonic boom comeback we saw against Utah, but it's still a comeback.

7:53: Kind of nice to have a guy like Hakeem to stop big runs. How many other players can drop-step between two defenders for a layup while falling down, get a steal on a double team, grab an offensive rebound and dish to a guy under the basket for a layup?

6:28: The Rockets keep doubling Perkins on the block, and he keeps making them pay. Why don't more teams just play the post straight up? Magic is saying the Rockets can't guard Perkins in the post, but when has the primary post defender even gotten a chance?

5:08: Whoa, whoa, whoa, what is Dana Barros doing in the game?

4:31: Perkins snatches a rebound over Carl Herrera and scores on a putback. The Rockets are really missing Thorpe right now, who is out of the game with foul issues. He's the guy who seals Olajuwon's backside when Hakeem goes for blocks. Without Thorpe in, the Sonics are pounding the offensive glass.

3:58: A seemingly angry Eddie Johnson ties the game at 62 with a three. I have no clue why he's mad. I also have no clue what this sign means.

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2:48: Barros hits a pull-up three to give the Sonics their first lead of the game. The crowd goes wild. We're talking about Dana Barros! Magic says he's in the game to score, which is kind of like saying Dikembe Mutombo is in the game to block shots.

1:43: Maxwell ties the game and then gestures to the crowd. I really wish Maxwell still played.

7.8: Jokes about Tree Rollins' first name are really lame. With that in mind, the quarter ends with the Sonics up three. It's no Sonic boom, but Seattle outscored Houston by 13 points in that quarter.

Fourth quarter

8:58: Skipping ahead again. Good Kenny Smith has shown up for this game. His three cuts Seattle's lead to 79-77.

8:10: First questionable call of the quarter: Thorpe gets called for his fifth foul for doing no more than trying to grab a rebound.

6:24: Olajuwon goes for a block, misses, and Cage gets the putback because nobody is there to clear the backside. Thorpe, who is still in, is freaking out about foul trouble.

5:01: Thanks for letting us see that Maxwell-to-Horry lob, NBC.

4:39: Perkins has 21 after dropping a turnaround over Herrera, who -- it has to be noted -- is only in because of that questionable fifth foul on Thorpe. Perkins is once again having a big game in an elimination game.

4:30: This image should go next to the phrase "Game 7" in the dictionary.

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2:31: Thorpe, who is back in despite the fouls, takes a bullet pass from Maxwell and finishes with the layup. It's a tie game. This is fun.

1:58: Here's your first big call. Down two, the Rockets have a ball called off them that looked like it was deflected off McKey. The replay is inconclusive, but the call rests on the assumption that it went off McKey, then off the back of Olajuwon. If the referees really did see that, they're smarter than I thought.

1:10: Seattle misses and Olajuwon drops in a fadeaway to tie the game. Guess that call didn't matter. On the ensuing possession, Kemp draws a lot of contact on Olajuwon, but no foul is called.

32.7: There it is: the first big shot of Robert Horry's career. Olajuwon swings it crosscourt, and Horry nails it with one on the shot clock. Rockets by two. Enberg calls him a rookie again.

23.9: Just like that, it's tied again. Really smart of Seattle to go to Pierce posted up on Maxwell. It's a play they've avoided all game. Maybe they shouldn't have, because Pierce nails the turnaround. Houston sent Smith to double team instead of Horry, which was stupid.

0.00: Smith gets an open corner jumper, but has to rush it with the game clock running down. Overtime. Unsurprisingly, seven games wasn't enough to decide a series between two 55-win teams.

Overtime

4:33: Why would you run the first play of overtime for McKe ... hey, it worked?

3:05: Words don't do this sequence justice. You tell me. Is this a foul?


Pretty awful call. Pierce isn't even looking at the basket when he takes that shot. Then again, how can you have any idea what to do there when there are so many bodies congested at the rim. I guess that's why a no-call would have been better.

Pierce hits both free throws, and the Sonics lead by two.

2:25: And now the worst call of the night. Perkins throws a pass way over Payton's head, but the referees say a Rockets player touched it. The trajectory of the ball clearly doesn't change, yet it stays with Seattle. Kemp hits a jump hook after the out of bounds call and Seattle leads by four. That's an unbelievably costly call.

Unrelated: I just noticed George Karl's tie, which has the names of all of his players. It's a good thing he didn't have Sarunas Marciulionis on his team that year.

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1:00: One minute to go, and the Rockets have the ball down two. "This is a big possession right here," Magic says. Glad he's here.

28.5: Perkins turns to his right, which he almost never does, and hits a turnaround to put Seattle up three. He's phenomenal.

15.2: Olajuwon hits the hook shot. One-point game. That free throw he missed earlier looms large.

14.1: Maxwell jumps in McKey's face as he prepares to shoot huge free throws. I love Maxwell. It works, as McKey misses both. Coming out of the timeout, NBC's sideline reporter jumps on to say the Rockets want to get the ball to Olajuwon on this possession. Glad he's here.

0.08: The Sonics swarm Olajuwon and force a Maxwell air ball. That'll do it. Incredible game. It's truly a shame that we had to wait three years to see these teams play in the playoffs again.

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