Despite a 105-90 setback in Game 2, the Houston Rockets aren't about to raise the white flag in their bid to become just the second No. 8 seed ever to win an NBA playoff series.
And why should they? Utah may have tied the series at 1-all, but the numbers still favor Houston. In addition to home-court advantage, the Rockets hold two more edges and a tremendous incentive. Of the 128 previous best-of-five series in NBA playoff history, 83 percent have been won by teams that prevailed in Game 1. The other satisfaction the Rockets have is a 17-0 all-time mark in series in which they've won the opener.As for the added incentive, Houston has gone on to win the NBA championship both times (1994 and 1995) it won a playoff series over Utah.
"That doesn't mean anything," veteran Eddie Johnson said while noting the significance of Game 2. "Records are made to be broken and that's what makes it scary."
Houston, for obvious reasons, wanted the second game badly. Charles Barkley said the Rockets didn't come to Utah to win just one. They had the luxury to get greedy before leaving town.
"Hey, Salt Lake is all right," Mario Elie said. "But we don't want to come back."
And they won't, should one of the teams win both games in Texas - scheduled for Wednesday and Friday at the Compaq Center. Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich has already issued the challenge to his team.
"We've got an advantage right now," he said. "And we've got to make the most of it."
Advantages in Game 2, however, didn't come often enough for the Rockets who grew impatient early.
Tomjanovich and Clyde Drexler drew technical fouls in the first seven minutes of what the Rockets anticipated would be a very physical game.
During the same span, guards Matt Maloney and Brent Price were each whistled for two fouls while trying to defend Utah's John Stockton.
The Jazz eventually built a 12-point lead in the second quarter, but allowed the Rockets to creep within one after failing to convert at the free-throw line. Utah missed seven freebies in the first two periods before settling for a 47-42 halftime lead. Before heading to the Houston locker room, Tomjanovich approached center court and engaged in an animated discussion with referees Hugh Evans, Ronnie Nunn and Ken Mauer. Upset with the physical nature of the game, the Houston coach was restained in time to avoid a second technical foul and ejection from the game.
As it turned out, Tomjanovich probably wished he had.
Utah extended its lead to 79-57 in the final minute of the third period as the Jazz capped a reversal of fortune from Game 1. Houston held Utah without a field goal for the first 7:33 of the second half in the opener. Some 48 hours later, the Jazz ripped the Rockets with 64 percent shooting and a 32-18 advantage in the third period.
Houston never recovered, though it did reduce the deficit to single-digits down the stretch. The Rockets' frustration, meanwhile, continued to rise. Olajuwon picked up two technicals and a trip to the showers with 5:13 remaining. Less than one minute later, Barkley picked up his sixth personal on a hard foul on Stockton. The play drew ire from the Delta Center crowd, which began chanting in unison that Barkley (shall we say, in the interest of younger readers) wasn't a very good player. The veteran left the court without incident. On Wednesday, the NBA fined the Rockets forward $10,000 for profane remarks he made throughout Game 1 to Jazz fans in the arena.
Houston executive vice-president Carroll Dawson said the NBA talked to Barkley and the matter settled.
What isn't, however, is this series.
Stay tuned. Game 3 is just three days away.