Rockets-Suns Flashback: Butt Kicking Inc. Gets Kiss Of Death From Mario Elie

Mario Elie's three sends Charles Barkley, Suns packing 25 years ago

Adam Spolane
May 20, 2020 - 1:28 am

Prior to the opening game of their Western Conference Semifinals rematch with the Rockets in 1995, Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle took part in the following conversation, as recounted by Sports Illustrated’s Tim Crothers:

Barkley: “What business are we in?”
Majerle: “The butt-kicking business.”
Barkley: “And how's business?”
Majerle: “Business is good.”

Barkley’s Suns had just followed up a 59-win regular season with a first round sweep of Portland in which no game was decided by fewer than eight points, and they backed up that brashness by winning games one and two against the Rockets in Phoenix by an average of 22 points.

With Barkley missing all 10 of his shot attempts, Houston returned home and scored a 33-point drubbing in game three, but Butt Kicking Inc. returned and grabbed control of the series the next afternoon (yes, they played a back-to-back in the conference semifinals) by storming back from 15-points down to win game four. Crothers described the postgame scene inside the Suns locker room:

“Charles Barkley, chairman of the board of Buttkicking Inc., strutted into the Phoenix Suns' locker room to conduct a brief business meeting moments after his team defeated the NBA champion Houston Rockets 114-110 on Sunday to go up 3-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series. Barkley grabbed a piece of chalk and scribbled feverishly on the blackboard while all the other board members gathered around. What he wrote came as a huge relief to them all: BACK IN BUSINESS. AND IT'S VERY GOOD!”

The economic upswing didn’t last, however, as the Rockets stole game five in Phoenix two nights later and returned home to level the series by outscoring the Suns by 16 in the second half in game six, setting the stage for a memorable game 7.

The Suns have done a lot of talking and let’s just say Kenny Smith and the Rockets have heard it all.

“I think they’re feeling the pressure, I think so. They’ve said a lot over the course of this series, and it’s tough to back up everything you say. A lot of times (they said) they wanted to play us again, to beat us. I said you gotta be careful what you ask for cause you might get what you want, so we’re here, they’ve said a lot of things over this series, and that puts more pressure on you.”

Broadcasters: Greg Gumbel, Bill Walton, Steve Jones, and Hannah Storm

Rockets starters

  • Robert Horry
  • Pete Chilcutt
  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Clyde Drexler
  • Kenny Smith

Suns starters

  • A.C. Green
  • Charles Barkley
  • Joe Kleine
  • Wesley Person
  • Kevin Johnson

“The Rockets have had every chance to fold being down 3-1, they have not.”- Greg Gumbel

First quarter

12:00- Right before the tipoff, Snapper Jones gives his key to winning the game:

“Well, the defining moment is who are going to be the secondary heroes. Everybody dreams about a seventh game. Everybody imagines themself making the winning shot, but it’s going to have to be someone other than (Hakeem) Olajuwon, (Clyde) Drexler, (Kevin) Johnson, or (Charles) Barkley.”

11:34- The game starts with both point guards driving to the rim. Kevin Johnson missed a layup, but Kenny Smith makes his. 2-0 Rockets.

9:58- It’s been an uneven series for Charles Barkley who is dealing with a bad left knee. He was excellent in the Suns’ wins in games one and two, but he was 0-for-10 in game three and really struggled in game five.

Before tipoff Bill Walton said Barkley was limited during warmups and he did not run. Walton also added this:

“You look in his eyes before the game there’s a little doubt and question in their as to how healthy he is.”

Barkley’s first touch of the game ended with a turnover, but on his second touch he looked like the healthy Barkley.

Olajuwon was called for the foul, drawing a large roar from the America West Arena crowd. Barkley made the free and the Suns lead 5-2.

8:52- The Rockets have failed to score on the five possessions since Smith’s layup started the game and the Suns have responded by scoring on four straight trips, the last two ending with Johnson layups. Suns lead 9-2, timeout Rockets.

8:05- After Olajuwon missed to finish the Rockets sixth straight empty possession, a Barkley bucket extends the Suns run to 11-0, but a tough fadeaway from Clyde Drexler stops the bleeding. 11-4 Phoenix.

5:53- The Suns are now 8-of-11 from the field as Barkley hits this fallaway in the lane to take a 17-6 lead, but watch as he jogs to the other end of the floor.

Walton keeps bringing up how Barkley is limping on his bum left knee, and you can really see it now, though he is 3-of-3 from the field for seven points and four rebounds.

3:50- Drexler has been the best Rocket thus far. He’s scored two of their four baskets and assisted on another. He also blocked what should’ve been an easy layup for A.C. Green, and right here, he just abuses Dan Majerle.

Suns by six.

1:00- Barkley leaves the game, but his replacement, Wayman Tisdale, has an immediate impact. Green misses the second of two free throws, and Tisdale is there for the tap-in. Suns are on a 7-1 run and lead by a dozen. Olajuwon is still looking for his first field goal.

0:00- The first quarter ends with the Suns leading 26-13. Barkley and Johnson combined for 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while Olajuwon has missed all of his field goal attempts and is just 2-of-6 from the free throw line.

Second quarter

10:12- With Johnson on the bench, Phoenix starts the second quarter 0-for-1 with two turnovers, and the Rockets take advantage by scoring five straight points, the last two coming on Olajuwon’s first made field goal of the afternoon.

9:39- With the Suns up 28-18 here’s a comparison of Barkley and Olajuwon thus far

barkley

Immediately after this graphic is shown, Barkley delivers a wonderful pass in a double team to a cutting Danny Schayes for an easy bucket. Suns lead is back to 12.

6:25- Throughout the second quarter the NBC cameras have caught Chucky Brown and Barkley jawing at one another. This was quite common throughout the series. On one hand, you have Barkley, a former MVP and one of the great players in NBA history. On the other hand you have Brown, a journeyman who started the season in the CBA. Gumbel explored the battle even further with Mario Elie at the free throw line.

“When talking about this little one-on-one thing that Chucky Brown and Charles Barkley have had, at one point Chucky Brown said, ‘Well, when this series started he didn’t know who I was’ and Barkley responded by saying, ‘I still don’t.’”

Elie splits the free throws as the Rockets cut the lead down to eight.

3:32- It’s starting to get away from the Rockets.  They can’t keep Johnson out of the paint or off the free throw line, they can’t keep Barkley off the glass and now Danny Ainge has come off the bench and hit a pair of threes, forcing a Rockets timeout. Suns lead it 44-29. Olajuwon is really struggling, shooting 1-of-8 from the field and 4-of-10 from the free throw line.

3:20- Robert Horry’s entry pass to Olajuwon is knocked away by Barkley which leads Walton to ask the following question:

“Has Horry done anything positive today for the Houston Rockets?”

1:48- Olajuwon is starting to wake up after a 1-of-8 start. He’s made back-to-back baskets, getting fouled on the second. Rockets are back within 12.

0:57- This is the type of stuff that made Kevin Johnson such a nightmare:

This isn’t a transition opportunity but he makes it look like one. With Schayes taking Olajuwon out of the paint, Johnson sees a chance and just attacks. He’s up to 18 points on the day, Suns lead by 14.

0:49- Elie converts a three-point play to bring the Rockets within 11 and draws a third foul on Schayes, so he and the other two Suns centers, Tisdale and Joe Kleine have three fouls. Before Elie hits the free throw, Olajuwon takes a seat on the Rockets bench for the first time.

0:39.7- Pete Chilcutt knocks down a pair of free throws after he’s fouled by Green going up for a rebounded that followed Johnson missing a layup despite blowing by Smith once again. With Chilcutt at the line, Walton asks Jones this question:

“Steve, you played a lot of guard in your day. Is Kenny Smith just a poor defender or is Kevin Johnson that much better?”

0:00- Rockets go into the locker room down 51-41. They have missed all nine of their three-point attempts. The Suns are winning the rebounding battle 28-16, with Barkley grabbing 15 of his own.

Third quarter

12:00- With the second half about to get underway, Hannah Storm gives an injury update on Barkley and Olajuwon:

"Hakeem Olajuwon, who has been bothered by a stiff neck since the end of the regular season, apparently had some problems with it in the first half. The team masseuse worked on him almost the entire halftime, and on the Phoenix Suns side, Charles Barkley said that he was still in quite a bit of pain with that left knee in the first half. He actually requested a second anti-inflammatory shot.”

Here is the Barkley/Olajuwon first half comparison:

barkley

11:51- This is how the Rockets start the second half:

The free throw was good. Suns lead is down to seven.

9:55- The Rockets have scored on their first three possessions of the second half, but so have the Suns as Johnson and Wesley Person hit threes on back-to-back possessions to keep the Suns lead at 10. Drexler converts his second three-point play of the half to make it a seven point margin again.

8:41- Houston has now scored on its first six possessions of the half as Chilcutt delivers a 30-foot pass to a cutting Drexler to make cut the Suns lead to 59-56, forcing a Phoenix timeout.

8:04- Order is restored for the Suns as Johnson comes out of the timeout by driving to the rim for a bucket and after Olajuwon misses, he drains a jumper. He’s got 25 points, and just like that the lead is back to seven.

7:40- Olajuwon heads to the Rockets after a shot clock violation and he’s holding the right wrist he injured in gave five against Utah less than two weeks ago, but before play continues, he gets right back up and re-enters the game without missing a second.

34

6:46- It’s now a 6-0 Phoenix run after Kleine hits from just outside the paint, and the fouls are starting to pile up on the Rockets. Smith has four fouls while Olajuwon is carrying three, and the Suns are in the bonus.

6:27- But has he did so many times in the Rockets first round series against the Jazz, Drexler steps up and quiets the America West Arena crowd.

21 points for Drexler, 11 in the quarter.

5:51- Disatrous stretch for the Rockets. Cassell fouls Johnson, leading to two free throws, and after the Rockets come up empty, Johnson misses a three, only the Rockets can’t come up with the rebound and Olajuwon gets whistled for his fourth foul, sending Green to the line and Olajuwon to the bench. He splits the pair, but the Suns still lead by nine.

5:15- NBC shows Olajuwon icing his hand on the Rockets bench, and Storm reports he has a hand contusion.

ice

3:22- The Suns have scored one point since Olajuwon left the game, and the Rockets offense has picked up. A Drexler layup, two Brown free throws, a Cassell three-point play, and then Cassell drives to the rim again and brings the Rockets within one.

But at the other end, Johnson draws a foul on Cassell and hits a pair of free throws. 71-68 Phoenix.

3:05- The Rockets scorching offense continues as Pete Chilcutt, of all people, ties the game.

The last 10 Rockets points have been scored by Brown, Cassell, and Chilcutt. Don’t forget what Jones said right before tip-off.

2:30- The Suns regain the lead when Green converts a third chance at the rim, but Cassell has the answer.

That’s the Rockets first lead since it was 2-0.

1:39- Cassell continues to star. He answers a Barkley putback with a layup, and after the Suns come up empty he draws a foul on Green by dribbling into him and steals two points at the line. He has 12 points in the last four minutes, and remember, he’s only in the game because Smith picked up his fourth foul.

0:40.8- Not only is Cassell scoring, he’s getting others involved as well:

0:00- Rockets will take a 81-79 lead into fourth quarter, outscoring the Suns 40-28 in the third. Drexler and Cassell combined for 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the period and Chilcutt added seven points. They were +12 in the quarter despite Olajuwon’s foul trouble.

Fourth quarter

11:40- Johnson pumps and gets Cassell in the air drawing his fifth foul, which sends him to the bench after a stellar third quarter. Remember, Smith and Olajuwon have four fouls.

11:20- Barkley is clearly hurt, but he’s still having an impact as he grabs his 20th rebound and ties the game.

That’s only Barkley’s third made fourth quarter basket in this series.  

10:59- On the Rockets trip, Barkley rebounds an Olajuwon miss and then gets fouled on the shot by Horry sending him to the line. Before he shoots the first Storm reports Barkley was emotional in the huddle in between quarters and even refused a cup of water, saying, “I don’t need water, I need the ball.” He hits 1-of-2 and the Suns regain the lead.

10:41- Drexler gets the lead right back:

The free throw was good, Rockets lead 84-82.

10:03- Robert Horry has been held scoreless with just three rebounds, something Walton has pointed out numerous times on the afternoon, and while it took awhile, Big Shot Bob finally arrives.

8:18- Both of these teams were really ahead of their time. The Rockets shot a ton of threes before anyone did, in fact, the 32 they attempted during game five of this series was an NBA Playoffs record, and while the Suns played with at least two bigs, and sometimes three, at all times, they understood the value of spreading the floor. Look how they are setup as Johnson draws Smith’s fifth foul.

Space

KJ is just too quick. He makes both free throws, making the score 90-87 Rockets and is now 16-of-16 from the free throw line.

7:45- Olajuwon answers Johnson’s free throws, but the Rockets defense breaks down, and Ainge, who had his moments when the Suns built their lead in the first half, struck:

6:29- It’s the Olajuwon vs KJ show. The last two Rockets possessions have ended with Olajuwon free throws, while Johnson has converted on the Suns last two trips. He’s up to 38 points and has broken Gail Goodrich’s 24-year old record for most free throws in a playoff game without a miss (18). Rockets lead 96-94.

6:06- Ainge hits from three again and the Suns have regained the lead. Ainge is now 4-for-4 from long distance in his 193rd career playoff game and 11-of-18 in the series.  

4:37- The Rockets reclaim the advantage when Cassell converts a pair of free throws and after a stop, Horry adds to it by making something out of nothing with the shot clock winding down.

Interesting to note Drexler is not on the floor for the Rockets.

3:34- Rockets get a bad whistle and Olajuwon is called for an offensive foul, his fifth, but Barkley misses a tough jumper, leading to this from the 1994 MVP:

The Suns three-headed center monster of Kleine, Schayes, and Tisdale has done a decent job on Olajuwon in this game, but there’s no defense for that. Rockets lead by five.

3:10- Every Phoenix possession is the same: Johnson by himself on the right side of the floor and everyone else above the three-point line. He drives past Smith for another layup giving him 41 points, his second 40-point game of the series, but Olajuwon answers. He’s up to 25, 12 in the fourth quarter.

2:25- Barkley scores off a great pass from Johnson, but Olajuwon is there again with this nifty move against Schayes:

But on the Suns next possession Johnson gets fouled driving to the rim. They call it on Cassell, so he has fouled out and not happy about it:

Cassell

Johnson hits both free throws. 106-103 Rockets.

1:32- The Suns take advantage of a Rockets turnover and cut the lead to one, but then Olajuwon does this:

That angle, good grief, but Johnson answers with a bank shot. Still a one-point game.

1:05- Bad pass by Olajuwon, worse foul by Drexler, and two free throws by Ainge. Suns lead again, timeout Rockets.

0:45.3- Rockets have nothing going out of the timeout, but with five on the shot clock they get bailed out by a Johnson hand check foul, sending Smith to the line. He knocks down both.

0:20.4- Majerle misses a three, but the Rockets can’t corral the rebound and Horry fouls Johnson, sending him back to the line where he hasn’t missed all day. He makes the first, for his 21st free throw make of the game, but misses the second. Olajuwon grabs the board and the Rockets call timeout.

0:07.1- The Suns try to trap Smith in the backcourt following the inbounds pass, and you know what happens next.

Suns coach Paul Westphal has taken heat over the years for his decision to trap, but I get it. The alternative is letting Smith dribble the ball up the floor and allowing an Olajuwon post up. The trap took that away and forced to into something different, and it almost worked perfectly. Horry almost airmails the pass, but Elie leaps, brings it in, and calmly drains one of the most iconic shots in Rockets history.

0:03.5- Walton implores the Rockets to foul before Phoenix can attempt a game-tying three and Horry obliges. Majerle connects on both free throws. The Suns immediately foul Drexler, who does the same.

0:02.1- The Suns get the ball into Ainge, but before he can launch a three, his old Blazers teammate, Drexler gives a foul. The first free throw was good, and now he has to try to miss the second and hope Barkley or Green can get the rebound, only he makes it.

0:00- The Rockets call timeout so they can advance the ball with a turnover being all that can save the Suns at this point.

They never could me it easy, could they? With the the win, the Rockets became the first team since 1981 to win a series after trailing 3-1.

Olajuwon and Drexler scored 29 points for the Rockets while Cassell added 18 points off the bench in 22 minutes. Johnson scored a career-high 46. A clearly hobbled Barkley gave the Suns 18 points and 23 rebounds.

That was the end of an era for the Suns. Ainge retired after scoring 19 points, and Westphal was fired 33 games into the next season. After a first round exit in 1996, Barkley was traded to the Rockets.