The last time the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers faced each other in the NBA Playoffs Bill Clinton had been president for three months, shows like X-Files, Boy Meets World, and Fraiser topped the TV listings, and Informer by Snow was number one on the Billboard Top 100. In 1993, the Rockets and Clippers had their first and only playoff meeting in a five-game series that was part of a wild start to the 1993 postseason.
The 1992-93 Houston Rockets
Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, and Robert Horry formed the core that would win two-straight titles in 1994 and 1995, but they started the 1992-93 season slow. They hovered around .500 until late January before their fortune changed and they finished with the second best record in the Western Conference at 55-27. Much of their success was due to Hakeem Olajuwon's MVP level year with averages of 26.1 points, 13 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The 1992-93 Los Angeles Clippers
Mike Prada called the 1992-93 Clippers "one of the strangest teams ever assembled." The Clippers' backcourt consisted of Ron Harper and newly acquired point guard Mark Jackson. In the front court they had forwards Danny Manning, who led the Clippers in scoring (22.8 ppg) and made his first all-star game, and Ken Norman to go along with center Stanly Roberts. The team was inconsistent and plagued with distractions but had considerable success against some of the NBA's best, which included the Knicks and the Suns. According to Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times, "the Clippers are capable of great things when focusing on the task at hand rather than the impending free agency," of half the team.
The 1993 NBA Playoffs
The first round of the 1993 playoffs was one of the most competative in NBA history, especially in the Western Conference. The Chicago Bulls were going after their third-straight NBA championship, but they entered the playoffs as the two seed behind the Knicks with an Eastern Conference best, 60-22 record. Out west the Phoenix Suns, and the season's MVP Charles Barkley, were the number one seed with a league best 62-20 mark.
In the east, the third place Cavaliers took five games to beat the New Jersey Nets, Alonzo Mourning eliminated the Celtics on a Game 4 buzzer-beater, and the Bulls completed the first round's only sweep with their 3-0 win over the Atlanta Hawks. In the west, three of the four first round series went the distance of five games. The eighth-seeded Lakers took the Suns to five games and almost made history after the Suns dropped the first two games of the series at home, and Seattle rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Utah Jazz in five games.
Western Conference First Round: (2) Rockets- (7) Clippers
The Rockets won all four regular season games against Los Angeles, so not much optimism surrounded the Clippers' chances as Game 1 approached. The playoff series opened much like the season series ended, with a 117-94 blowout where the Rockets shot a franchise playoff record 62 percent from the field. Hakeem Olajuwon dominated with 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks, and Mark Jackson led Los Angeles with 26 points.
Ron Harper, who injured his knee in Game 1, looked doubtful for Game 2, but played and led the Clippers with 29 points in a 95-83 theft of Houston's home court advantage, despite Olajuwon going for 30 points and 14 rebounds. At one point, the Clippers went on a 25-6 run, a period Larry Brown called the, "six or seven best minutes of defense this team has ever played."
"One night we play great, the next we won't be able to sustain it," said Larry Brown about the Clippers' inconsistency after the 111-99 Game 3 loss at home, but in many ways this was the story of the series for both teams as they exchanged wins and losses. Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell returned to the lineup in Game 4 after missing the start of the playoffs with a wrist injury, but the Rockets could not close it out even with a 25 point, 18 rebound and nine assist performance from Olajuwon. Unlike the first three games, Game 4 was close and the Clippers took it 93-90.
After the Game 4 loss Vernon Maxwell told the media that the Rockets would "kick the Clippers' butts" in the final game. The Rockets were on their home court for Game 5 but, like the entire series, the Clippers made it tough, and stayed close even though Olajuwon dominated with 31 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocks. Olajuwon's 29 blocks tied Mark Eaton and Manute Bol's record for most blocked shots in a five-game series, and he finished the series with averages of 29.2 points, 15 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 5.8 blocks. The game came down to the final minute with the Rockets down by a point. With 56 seconds left, Vernon Maxwell hit a three to give the Rockets an 82-80 lead. That was pretty much the game. Olajuwon got one more dunk to make it 84-80 Rockets with a little over 30 seconds left to pretty much ensure their survival.
The series was part of a crazy start to the NBA postseason, especially in the Western Conference, and the rest of the playoffs did not disappoint. Houston went on to lose their second round series to the Supersonics in seven games, the Bulls tangled with the Knicks for six games in an Eastern Conference Finals series that gave all Bulls fans mini heart attacks, and the Suns defeated Seattle in yet another seven-game series to advance to the NBA Finals against the Bulls, who wouls go on to win their third consecutive championship.
In 1993 the Rockets proved they were a championship caliber team and they returned in 1994 to win the first of two-straight titles, while the Clippers lost half of their team, their coach, and languished at the bottom of the Western Conference for more than a decade thereafter. 22 years later these two teams are again opposite one another in the playoffs, except this time both have championship aspirations.
Rockets-Clippers 1993 first round stats via Basketball Reference.