Rockets Wire previously explored some of the most meaningful Houston Rockets transactions over the past decade. On Friday, we look back at the team’s actual basketball games over that same period of the 2010s.
Dating back to 2010, the Rockets have the fourth-most wins among the NBA’s 30 franchises. They’ve advanced to the Western Conference Finals twice in the past five years, which they hadn’t previously done since 1997.
Nonetheless, as the new decade nears, the Rockets are still in search of their first NBA championship since 1995.
For better or for worse, here’s a look back at some of the most pivotal games from the past decade as it pertains to that pursuit.
April 9, 2019: The Rockets (53-29) lost to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, 112-111, in the final game of the 2018-19 regular season. Houston led by four points with possession of the basketball and under 45 seconds left to play. The Thunder rallied on a 3-pointer and dunk from future Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, and a game-winning corner trey with under two seconds left from Paul George.
That loss dropped the Rockets from the No. 2 seed in the 2019 Western Conference playoffs to the No. 4 seed. In turn, that put Houston on course for a playoff matchup with the top-seeded and two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in the second round, rather than the third.
As it turned out, Warriors star Kevin Durant missed the entire Western Conference Finals due to injury after playing in five of six second-round games versus Houston. While there are no guarantees that everything would have played out along a similar timetable had Golden State played a different opponent in the semifinals, the Rockets were left to wonder, what if?, after Durant’s near-total absence made the Warriors more vulnerable in the series against the Portland Trail Blazers and eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
April 28, 2015: After a pair of first-round losses in his first two seasons in Houston, James Harden made sure it didn’t happen again. The Rockets star guard, who won Players’ MVP after that season, scored a game-high 28 points in a Game 5 series clincher at home in the first round against in-state rival Dallas Mavericks. Harden connected on 4-of-8 3-pointers (50%), and he also led Houston with eight assists.
This was also the game that led to a postgame controversy about the use of an emoji horse and gun from the Rockets’ official Twitter account.
With honorable mentions complete, read on for our selections of the top five most pivotal Houston Rockets games of the 2010s.
No. 1: May 14, 2015
Rockets 119, Clippers 107: The 2014-15 Rockets (56-26) weren’t as good as the previously mentioned 2017-18 Rockets (65-17), who finished with the most wins of any team in franchise history.
But the 2014-15 group did have the most memorable game, and it came at the expense of future teammate Chris Paul.
Trailing by 19 points in the second half of Game 6 at Los Angeles and facing elimination in the second round of the NBA playoffs, the Rockets refused to go quietly into the night.
Led by a combined 38 points and 16 rebounds from veterans Josh Smith and Corey Brewer — and 20 points and 21 rebounds from big man Dwight Howard — the Rockets outscored the LA Clippers by an astounding 40-15 margin in the fourth quarter to take the series back to Houston.
James Harden struggled with his shot (23 points, 5-of-20 shooting) and was on the bench for much of the improbable comeback. However, he made up for it with a game-high 31 points along with eight assists and seven rebounds in theensuing Game 7at home, three days later.
The Rockets won that Game 7 by a 113-100 margin and advanced to their first Western Conference Finals in 18 years.