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On This Date in Sports May 20, 1995: Kiss of Death

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Houston Rockets stun the Phoenix Suns 115-114 in Game 7 of a second-round series at America West Arena. The Rockets, who once trailed in the series 3-1, won the game on a three-pointer by Mario Elie with 7.1 seconds left that was sealed with a kiss. It marked the first time since 1982 that a road team won a Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs.

After winning the NBA Championship in 1994, the Houston Rockets, coached by Rudy Tomjanovich, had their struggles. They finished third in the Midwest Division with a record of 47-35, with the sixth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. The Rockets struggled late in the season despite acquiring Clyde Drexler and hardly looked like a threat to win a second straight championship. In the first round, the Rockets edged the Utah Jazz in five games, winning two elimination games, including a 95-91 win on the road in the finale.

Paul Westphal coached the Phoenix Suns after losing hard-fought seven-game series in 1994 to the Rockets and looked to return to the NBA Finals, which they reached in 1993. Winning the Pacific Division with a record of 59-23, the Suns once again were one of the top teams in the West, earning the second seed. In the first round, the Suns looked to be ready to roll as they swept the Portland Trailblazers in three straight games.

Facing the Houston Rockets for the second straight season in the second round, the Suns again got off to a strong start winning the opener at home 130-108 as Charles Barkley scored 26 points to lead the way, with A.C. Green adding 25. The Suns would get a 2-0 lead for the second straight season with a 118-94 win in Game 2. Barkley again led Phoenix with 30 points, with Kevin Johnson adding 29. As the series shifted to the Summitt in Houston, the Rockets climbed back into the series delivering a 118-85 win in Game 3, as Hakeem Olajuwon had a big game with 36 points and 11 rebounds. Olajuwon was dominant again in Game 4, scoring 38 points, but it was not enough as the Suns built a commanding 3-1 series lead, winning 114-110 as Kevin Johnson had 43 points with six assists and nine rebounds. Facing elimination in Phoenix, the Rockets turned to their defense, winning Game 5 in overtime 103-97 as Hakeem Olajuwon had 31 points with 16 rebounds. Houston would win Game 6 at home 116-103 to set up a seventh game battle with the Suns for the second year in a row. 

Things looked good early for the Suns, as they held a 26-13 lead after the first quarter and led at the half 51-41. The Rockets blasted off in the third quarter, scoring 40 points to take the lead. The fourth would see the game go back and forth. With 7.1 seconds left, Mario Elie hit a three-pointer to give the Rockets a 113-110 lead. The teams traded free throws over the final seven seconds, as Danny Ainge's steal and desperation half-court shot came up short, with the Rockets holding on for a 115-114 win to advance to the Western Conference Finals. It was the final play of Ainge’s career as he retired after the season. Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler scored 29 points to lead the way for the Rockets, while Kevin Johnson’s 46 points were not enough.

The Rockets would beat the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Finals and sweep the Orlando Magic for their second straight NBA Championship.

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