NBA Finals - Game 7
1994: New York Knicks @ Houston Rockets

After Pat Riley's Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons in seven games in the 1988 NBA Finals, two teams dominated the NBA the next five years.

  • Chuck Daly's "Bad Boys" from the Motor City swept the Lakers in 1989, then toppled the Portland Trail Blazers in '90 in five games.
  • The next three championships belonged to Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan.
  • Jordan's retirement following the 1992-93 season to try his hand at baseball opened the door for other clubs in the Eastern Conference.

Back in Los Angeles, Lakers Coach Pat Riley decided to step down after losing to the Phoenix Suns in the 1989-90 playoffs.

  • With four NBA Championship skins on his wall with the Lakers, Riley had many options if he wanted to coach again.
  • After serving as a studio analyst for a year, he became head coach of the New York Knicks for 1991-92 season.
  • The Knicks had not won an NBA title or even made the Finals since 1973.

Riley changed his style of coaching from the "Showtime" game his championship Lakers played.

  • Riley's Knicks played a slower pace of basketball and deployed the more physical defense like the one the Bad Boy Pistons had used to win two championships.
  • He added more offensive weapons to supplement C Patrick Ewing. So the Knicks immediately improved.
  • After finishing 39-43 in 1990-91, they jumped to 51-31 in Riley's first season, which ended with a loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
  • The next year, the Knicks reached the Conference finals after a 60-22 regular season.

Riley's 1993-94 squad went 57-25, three games worse that the year before, but this time they won the Eastern Conference championship.

  • The Knicks were 10th in the conference in points scored (98.5ppg) but first in points allowed (91.5ppg).
  • As usual, Ewing led the team in scoring with 24.5ppg. G John Starks, the team's leading three-point shooter, was second (19.0).

The Western Conference champion Houston Rockets hadn't been to the NBA finals since 1985-86 when they lost to the Celtics in six games.

  • Rudy Tomjanovich, who played ten years for the Rockets, led the team to the finals in his third year as head coach after serving as an assistant for nine years.
  • Like the Knicks, the Rockets were led in scoring by their center, Hakeem Olajuwon, who averaged 27.3ppg, which was third in the NBA behind two other centers, David Robinson and Shaquille O'Neal.
  • Houston scored more points per game than the Knicks but also gave up more. The Rockets ranked seventh in the Western Conference in points scored (101.1ppg) and second in points allowed (96.8).
Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Team W L % GB
New York Knicks 57 25 .695 --
Orlando Magic 50 32 .610 7
New Jersey Nets 45 37 .549 12
Miami Heat 42 40 .512 15
Boston Celtics 32 50 .390 25
Philadelphia 76ers 25 57 .305 32
Washington Bullets 24 58 .293 33
Central Division
Team W L % GB
Atlanta Hawks 57 25 .695 --
Chicago Bulls 55 26 .671 2
Indiana Pacers 47 35 .573 10
Cleveland Cavaliers 47 35 .573 10
Charlotte Hornets 41 41 .500 16
Milwaukee Bucks 20 62 .244 37
Detroit Pistons 20 62 .244 37
Western Conference
Midwest Division
Team W L % GB
Houston Rockets 58 24 .707 --
San Antonio Spurs 55 27 .671 3
Utah Jazz 53 29 .646 5
Denver Nuggets 42 40 .512 16
Minnesota Timberwolves 20 62 .244 38
Dallas Mavericks 13 69 .159 45
Pacific Division
Team W L % GB
Seattle Supersonics 63 19 .768 --
Phoenix Suns 56 26 .683 7
Golden State Warriors 50 32 .610 13
Portland Trail Blazers 47 35 .573 16
Los Angeles Lakers 33 49 .402 30
Sacramento Kings 28 54 .341 35
Los Angeles Clippers 27 55 .329 36

Eastern Conference First Round
Hawks over Heat 3-2
Knicks over Nets 3-1
Bulls over Cavaliers 3-0
Pacers over Magic 3-0

Western Conference First Round
Jazz over Spurs 3-1
Rockets over Trail Blazers 3-1
Suns over Warriors 3-0
Nuggets over Supersonics 3-2
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Pacers over Hawks 4-2
Knicks over Bulls 4-3
Western Conference Semifinals
Jazz over Nuggets 4-3
Rockets over Suns 4-3
Eastern Conference Finals
Knicks over Pacers 4-3
Western Conference Finals
Rockets over Jazz 4-1

The Las Vegas oddsmakers established the Rockets as 2-1 favorites.

  • One factor in the Rockets' favor was their eight-day layoff since clinching the Western Conference crown in just five games while the Knicks went the full seven to eliminate the pesky Pacers. The Rockets also enjoyed home court advantage because of their better season record.
  • One sports book manager summarized the Rockets' edge like this: "Let's face it, the Knicks should have been beaten by the Bulls, and they weren't convincing over Indiana. Houston has looked convincing." He added that Ewing was the Knicks' only offensive weapon, and Olajuwon could shut him down.
  • Another bookie said, "I know the Knicks play great defense, but when your most consistent outside shooter is 7', that's dangerous.
  • But another oddsmaker cited New York's coaching advantage. "I think Tomjanovich has done a good job. I like the way he has held their team together. But is he Pat Riley? No. Absolutely not. Riley could be the greatest coach in NBA history. If he wins this series, they should bronze him."
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
7 Carl Herrera PF 6-9 215 Jacksonville, Houston 3
10 Sam Cassell PG 6-3 185 Florida State 1
11 Vernon Maxwell SG 6-4 180 Florida 6
17 Mario Elie SF 6-5 210 American International 4
21 Chris Jent SF 6-7 220 Ohio State 1
25 Robert Horry SF 6-10 240 Alabama 2
30 Kenny Smith PG 6-3 170 North Carolina 7
33 Otis Thorpe PF 6-9 225 Providence 10
34 Hakeem Olajuwon C 7-0 255 Houston 10
35 Earl Cureton PF 6-0 210 Robert Morris/Det. Mercy 11
50 Matt Bullard PF 6-10 215 Colorado/Iowa 3
Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
3 John Starks SG 6-3 180 Oklahoma State 5
4 Anthony Bonner SF 6-8 215 St. Louis 4
11 Derek Harper PG 6-4 185 Illinois 11
14 Anthony Mason PF 6-7 250 Tennessee State 5
32 Herb Williams C 6-10 242 Ohio State 13
33 Patrick Ewing C 7-0 240 Georgetown 9
34 Charles Oakley PF 6-8 225 Virginia Union 9
44 Hubert Davis SG 6-5 183 North Carolina 2
50 Greg Anthony PG 6-0 175 Portland/UNLV 8
54 Charles Smith SF 6-10 230 Pittsburgh 6
Coach: Pat Riley
# Date Place Winner Loser Winning Team
High Scorer
Losing Team
High Scorer
1 June 8 Houston Rockets 85 Knicks 78 Olajuwon 28 Ewing 23
2 June 10 Houston Knicks 91 Rockets 83 Starks 19 Olajuwon 25
3 June 12 New York Rockets 93 Knicks 89 Olajuwon 24 Starks 20
4 June 15 New York Knicks 91 Rockets 82 Harper 21 Olajuwon 32
5 June 17 New York Knicks 91 Rockets 84 Ewing 25 Olajuwon 27
6 June 19 Houston Rockets 86 Knicks 84 Olajuwon 30 Starks 27

Each team won on the other's court once.

  • Game One: The scoring duel between two centers went to Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon over Patrick Ewing 28-23. But neither 7' post man led his team in rebounds. Otis Thorpe snared 16 for Houston while Charles Oakley took down 14 for New York. Knicks' sharpshooter John Starks, who had averaged 21 points in his last five games, had a terrible night after flying in from his uncle's funeral: 3-for-18.
  • Game Two: Starks canned 19 to help the Knicks even the series. New York had balanced scoring, with six players in double figures. Olajuwon outscored Ewing again 25-16, but Ewing won the rebound battle 13-7.
  • Game Three: The Rockets regained homecourt advantage by jumping out to a 26-18 lead at the end of the first period and holding on to win by four, 93-89. As in Game Two, Olajuwon had the edge in scoring over Ewing but not in rebounds.
Game 3 Action

L: Olajuwon blocks Oakley's shot. R: Olajuwon shoots over Ewing.
  • Game Four: The Knicks again evened the series with a 91-82 victory to go with their 91-83 win in Game 2 despite Olajuwon scoring 32. But no other Rocket had more than 12.
  • Game Five: Amazingly, the Knicks scored 91 again to 84 for Houston to take a 3-to-2 edge in games. Ewing (25 points/12 rebounds) held his own against Olajuwon (27/8). NBC affiliates across the nation ran a split screen throughout most of the game to provide coverage of the police chase of O.J. Simpson in Los Angeles after his ex-wife was murdered.
  • Game Six: The Rockets staved off elimination, but it wasn't easy. They outscored the Knicks 25-15 in the second quarter to take a 46-36 lead into the locker room. But the visitors trimmed the margin to just three heading into the final 12 minutes. Houston G Kenny Smith, criticized for his passive play and poor shooting in the series, had only seven points but sank a key three-point basket with 3:19 left to give the Rockets a 84-77 lead. They held on to win 86-84 and stay alive.
Game 6 action

L: Starks shoots over Olajuwon; R: Olajuwon shoots over Oakley.
The Knicks stayed in Houston all three days after Game 6 waiting for Game 7. Knicks backup C Herb Williams recalled, "Having to stay there for three days between Game 6 and Game 7, all you're hearing on TV is 'Houston, Houston, Houston.' I was turning channels like crazy. We had to sit there for three days and think about everything. I think Riles was thinking about having us go back to New York after Game 6 for a while. I'm not sure why we didn't do that."
As Mike Riley and a longtime friend were waiting for the elevator to leave the hotel for Game 7, Mike told his friend, "Well, old buddy, I know at least three people are gonna show up tonight. You, me, and John," referring to G John Starks.
Who could blame Riley for having confidence in his best three-point shooter? After a poor performance in Game 1, Starks responded by averaging 21 points and seven assists in the next five games.
But what Riley didn't know was that Starks hadn't slept much the last three nights in Houston. He tossed and turned trying to get over the end of Game 6 when he missed the last second shot that would have sent the game into overtime. Olajuwon managed to get a finger on the ball, causing it to fall short. Starks missed a chance to pass to Ewing for an easy basket.

Game Seven

  • Quarter 1
    Hitting four of their first six shots with three of them coming off passes out of the lane by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets forged an early 11-6 lead and stayed in front until the last two minutes. Kenny Smith was 3-of-3, with one of the baskets a breakaway on a turnover.
    Patrick Ewing missed both shots he took and left the court midway through the period. The Knicks finished strong and led by a point at the horn.
    Knicks 22 Rockets 21

  • Quarter 2
    Led by G Vernon Maxwell, who had 11 points in the first half, Houston led by seven, 40-33, before the Knicks staged a comeback.
    Having no problem penetarting on Kenny Smith, Derek Harper scored 13 points in the half, including two straight baskets that were followed by a Greg Anthony jumper to cut the lead to 42-41 in the last minute.
    The half ended with Maxwell hitting a jumper to put the Rockets up by two.
    Houston shot 50% in the half with nine layups and dunks.
    Knicks F Charles Smith picked up some of the slack left by Ewing's frustration by scoring 10 points.
    Olajuwon finished the half making just 4 of 12 shots, but he earned his keep on the other end of the court where he held Ewing to just six shots and oly two baskets.
    Starks sank only one of five shots in limited playing time in the half.
    Rockets 45 Knicks 43
  • Quarter 3
    After Ewing put back his own miss to tie the game at 45, he committed his third foul. The two free throws put Houston back on top, and they stayed there the rest of the period, although the lead never exceeded six points.
    With starks failing to score, the Knicks went through a stretch where they made only one of ten field goal attempts. Fortunately, their defense kept them close, and Harper broke the streak with the Knicks' first three-pointer of the evening to make it 61-58 in the last minute.
    Oakley and Carl Herrera exchanged two-pointers to close the quarter.
    Rockets 63 Knicks 60
  • Quarter 4
    All season long, the Knicks had boasted "The fourth quarter belongs to us." They would come close several times but just couldn't get over the hump.
    The Rockets quickly extended their lead to 67-62 on a steal and layup by Sam Cassell, the first of several key plays he would make in the period. He added two free throws moments later to give Houston their biggest lead so far, 69-62.
    But the Knicks weren't about to go down without a fight.
    Starks finally scored, sinking two free throws on Olajewon's fourth foul to make it 72-66 with 8:35 to go.
    Oakley sank a two-pointer and, after a Houston turnover, Greg Anthony hit a three to cut the lead to 74-71 at the 6:30 mark.
    The Knicks got a chance to tie after Cassell missed a three, and Starks got a good look from beyond the arc, but the ball just wouldn't go in. Hakeem sank a jumper from the top of the key to make it 76-71.
    Starks was open again but couldn't connect. After a turnover, he tried again to no avail. Houston ended the sequence with a snowbird by Hakeem to make it 78-71.
    Neither team scored for over a minute until Starks took an offensive rebound in the lane and laid it back in to make it 78-73.
    Oakley's two free throws cut the margin to 78-75 to give Knicks fans hope. It was Hakeem's fifth foul, but Tomjanovich wasn't about to take him out.
    The decision paid off as Olajuwon hit another of his patented jumpers, and after a Ewing miss, Maxwell sank a crucial three - he would afterwards call it "the biggest shot every in my career" - to make it 83-75 Rockets with 1:48 left.
    The helter-skelter play continued as the Knicks went 5:20 on the clock with only one field goal. They got a break when Otis Thorpe missed both free throws with 31.6 seconds left with the score 84-78.
    But Starks missed again, and Kenny Smith sank two free throws at the other end. 86-78 (0:15)
    Hubert Davis sank a triple to cut the lead to five, but Maxwell hit two freebies to help offset Harper's desperation three-pointer that cut the lead to 88-84. Maxwell sank two more from the foul line to end the scoring.


Pat Riley with Patrick Ewing



John Starks

Rudy Tomjanovich

Hakeem Olajuwon







Charles Oakley

Kenny Smith

Herb Williams

Game 2: Ewing rebounds.

Game 2: Sam Cassell

Game 4: Olajuwon thwarts Starks.

Game 5: Oakley shoots over Horry.

Game 6: Olajuwon blocks Starks' shot.

Game 7 Action

Olajuwon shoots over Ewing.

Starks drives on Olajuwon.

Kenny Smith shoots.

Player Min FG2 FG3 FT Rebs Ast Stl Blk TOV Fouls Points
Patrick Ewing 44 7-17 0-0 3-6 10 1 1 2 5 3 17
Charles Oakley 42 4-9 0-0 2-2 14 3 0 0 3 6 10
John Starks 42 2-18 0-11 4-4 2 2 0 0 0 5 8
Derek Harper 38 8-16 2-5 5-6 0 5 2 0 2 4 23
Charles Smith 27 4-7 0-0 2-4 5 1 0 1 0 2 10
Anthony Mason 31 3-4 0-0 0-0 9 2 0 0 1 1 6
Greg Anthony 12 2-5 1-3 2-2 0 3 2 0 0 1 7
Hubert Davis 4 1-2 1-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3
Total 240 31-78 4-20 18-24 40 17 5 3 11 23 84
Player Min FG2 FG3 FT Rebs Ast Stl Blk TOV Fouls Points
Hakeem Olajuwon 46 10-25 0-0 5-7 10 7 1 3 2 5 25
Vernon Maxwell 40 6-11 2-6 7-8 1 4 0 0 0 2 21
Robert Horry 35 4-8 0-1 0-0 5 3 3 1 0 5 8
Otis Thorpe 35 3-7 0-0 0-2 9 3 1 0 2 3 6
Kenny Smith 30 4-7 1-2 2-2 1 2 1 0 1 3 11
Carl Herrera 25 3-6 0-0 0-0 5 0 0 0 2 3 6
Sam Cassell 18 4-6 1-2 0-0 1 1 0 1 0 1 11
Mario Elie 8 0-3 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 1 0 1 0
Earl Cureton 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Jent 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 240 34-73 4-11 18-23 33 22 8 5 9 23 90
Hakeem Olajuwon was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Series. He added to those trophies to his regular-season MVP and defensive player of the year awards. He led the Rockets in assists in Game 7 with seven.
John Starks set a dubious record for most three-point field goal attempts without a make in a playoff game (11).


Rockets Locker Room

  • Coach Tomjanovich: "I don't have the words to explain and describe what it feels like. It's almost like being in a dream. All the wonderful things that have happened this year. Right now I'm the proudest guy in the world." Rudy singled out his backcourt for praise. "Our guards took a lot of negative press this series. But without the guards stepping up late in the games - Cassell in New York, Kenny Smith the last game, and Max this game - we could not have done it."
  • Hakeem Olajuwon said his parents were making their annual summer visit from Nigeria, but they turned down his offer of tickets for prime seats and decided to watch the game on television. "They're not used to the contact, the running up and down," he explained. "When they saw the game, they said, 'You have to really work for your money. We see how hard you work going up and down the court.' They turn the TV on and then turn it off, just to keep (track of) the score."
  • Vernon Maxwell praised Olajuwon. "Hakeem has been the big spoke in our wheel. He always keeps us going. Now he put us over the top. ... I felt me and Kenny outplayed them (the Knicks guards) tonight. "
  • Sam Cassell: "We just wanted to show the New York Knicks guards that we are capable guards who can go out and have a big night any night."

Knicks Locker Room

  • Coach Riley lauded the Rockets and Olajuwon: "The Houston Rockets have to be considered a great team. Usually a great team is led by a great, great player. This championship will kick him over the top."
    He singled out the Houston guards for praise. "Vernon (Maxwell) had a hell of a game. Defensively, he did a great job with John. Their guards had a good night. They had been struggling during the series, but i a game that counted the most, they played very well."
    But Riley also praised his squad. "I don't think I've ever been prouder of a team in my life. Like you do inn these games, there's another year, and you have to bounce back. ... It's been a long, hard road for us. There's nothing I can really say to the guys. It's a very personal thing to go through. But we'll continue to work at this thing, and one day we'll get that trophy."
    On John Starks's dismal night: "John almost single-handedly won it for us the other night in Game 6. You go with your players, you go up with them and you go down with them. The guy is fearless. He had some real good looks at the basket in the fourth quarter, but they didn't drop for him. He is one of the great competitors I have been around in my life, and I love him dearly for that competitive nature of his. He's a tough kid, and he'll eventually be able to lick these wounds and get over it and learn from it."
  • Starks: "I don't know what it was. It was very discouraging. My shot kept coming up short. When I went out before the game to shoot, I felt real good. My teammates were behind me. The shots I had were good looks. I can't explain it. It was just one of those nights when things just weren't falling for me."
  • Charles Smith: "In a word we're crushed. I felt all along we were going to win because of the character and drive of this team."
Participants in the 1994 NBA Finals who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame:
Rockets: Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, Hakeem Olajuwon
Knicks: Coach Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing
1993-94 Houston Rockets