HOUSTON -- He's been the dominant force in the NBA this season, winning both the Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Last night, Houston Rockets added the league's top honor, the NBA title.
Olajuwon scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and passed for seven assists last night as he outplayed New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing to lead his team to a 90-84 victory and the NBA championship.
It the first world championship in franchise history for the Rockets, and also marked the first time a professional team from Houston has won a major sports championship.
"Finally," Olajuwon said. "We played together as a team. I still can't believe we won a championship."
"If you were to write a book, you can't write it any better," Olajuwon said. "It's been a great season for the team."
For the seventh time neither team reached at least 100 points, marking the first time since the introduction of the shot clock in 1954 that has happened.
The victory by the Rockets marked the 20th straight time that a home team has won a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs. It also marked the 12th time in 15 tries that the home team has won a Game 7 in the finals, with the road team failing to win in that scenario since 1978 when the Washington Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics.
"I'm just so proud to be part of the team that got the title," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "We couldn't have done it if we didn't do it together."
"This was the most nerve-wracking playoff I've ever seen in my life," Tomjanovich said. "I'm just so happy to be on top."
Vernon Maxwell, who scored a big three-pointer down the stretch, said: "Dream [Olajuwon] made a good pass to me. I just got a good shot."
The Rockets had a 63-60 lead going into the fourth quarter, in a series where the Knicks had outscored Houston in each game during the final 12 minutes. But rookie guard Sam Cassell, whose three-pointer in Game 3 helped steal a Houston win at Madison Square Garden, gave the Rockets breathing room at the start of the fourth quarter.
Cassell got things going by making two free throws and scored (( the first six points for Houston, with his free throws with 10:53 left giving the Rockets a 69-62 lead. Houston would lead by as many as eight points, getting that advantage after Cassell's jumper with 8:30 left giving the Rockets a 74-66 lead.
"I played 105 games, so my teammates had a lot of confidence in me," Cassell said. "I don't feel like a rookie."
New York fought back and, after a three-pointer by Greg Anthony with 6:41 left, were within 74-71. Within striking distance, the Knicks, especially John Starks, lost their patience.
Starks kept launching three-point attempts, despite making just one of his first 13 shots. With the New York shooting guard missing, the Rockets took advantage, and Olajuwon scored four straight to give the Rockets a 79-71 lead after his dunk with 5:37 left.
Starks finally made just his second field goal since the second quarter, rebounding a Ewing miss and scoring on a layup. Charles Oakley then made two free throws with 2:51 left, and the Knicks were behind, 78-75.
But Olajuwon followed with a hook over Ewing for a five-point lead and, after Ewing missed a baseline jumper, Vernon Maxwell made a three-pointer with 1:48 left that gave the Rockets an 83-75 lead. It proved to be too much to overcome for New York.
It had been a series where neither team had really established itself offensively, but both teams shot well in the early going last night. Houston's backcourt of Kenny Smith and Maxwell had been outplayed through the first six games, but the two combined for nine points in the first two and a half minutes, helping the Rockets to an 11-6 lead after Maxwell's jumper with 8:26 left.
In the first quarter, Houston's biggest lead was five on several occasions, the latest coming after Olajuwon made a jumper from the baseline with 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining. Smith, who averaged 4.7 points in the series through six games, had six points in the first quarter as he it all three of his field goals.
New York came back, with its defense holding the Rockets scoreless after Olajuwon's jumper. The Knicks scored the last four points -- the last three by Charles Smith, who scored eight in the quarter -- to pull to within 22-21 at quarter's end.
New York coach Pat Riley had limited the minutes of his bench as the series wore on, but Anthony Mason and Greg Anthony sparked the Knicks at the start of the second quarter. Mason's jumper gave the Knicks their first lead, 23-22, and Anthony's jumper from the same spot gave New York its biggest lead of the half, 25-22.
But the Rockets began to get a contribution from its bench as well, mainly from Cassell. The Baltimore native scored five points during a 7-0 run -- the final three on a wide-open three-pointer -- that gave Houston a 29-25 lead with 9:37 left.
Harper later tied it for New York at 31, making a jumper with 5:21 left. Houston then went on an 11-4 run, the biggest play an off-balance three-pointer by Smith with the shot clock running down, giving the Rockets a 38-33 lead. Maxwell ended the run with a layup with 1:45 left, and the Rockets had their biggest lead of the half, 42-35.
Harper, who had a quiet Game 6, scored on a jumper and a layup, and Anthony made two free throws, bringing the Knicks to within 42-41 with 30.8 seconds left. A free throw by Olajuwon increased Houston's lead to 43-41.
Mason, making three of four shots in the half, then scored on a thunderous dunk on the baseline, tying the score at 43 with 10.9 seconds left. But Maxwell made an off-balance jumper with 4.7 seconds left to give Houston a 45-43 halftime lead.
+ N.Y. KNICKS vs. HOUSTON (Rockets win series, 4-3) Results
Gm. 1: Rockets 85, Knicks 78
Gm. 2: Knicks 91, Rockets 83
Gm. 3: Rockets 93, Knicks 89
Gm. 4: Knicks 91, Rockets 82
Gm. 5: Knicks 91, Rockets 84
Gm. 6: Rockets 86, Knicks 84
Gm. 7: Rockets 90, Knicks 84