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Invoking the ghost of Clutch City

After taking the first two games on the road against Dallas in their playoff series, Coach Jeff Van Gundy reminded the Rockets that the franchise has been here before from the other side.

The locker room was rocking.

The Rockets had not just won Game 2 to take a 2-0 lead in their playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, they had won a sensational game with a thrilling fin- ish.

Then coach Jeff Van Gundy entered the room, bringing a question. Van Gundy asked if anyone knew how the Rockets’ “Clutch City” nickname was born.

No player raised his hand.

Van Gundy gave them more than a history lesson. The Rockets received a warning.

The Rockets were told that their 1994 descendants lost the first two games of a playoff series at home, as the Mavericks have, and headed to Phoenix in desperate trouble. The Rockets rallied to win Game 3, won the series and beat the Knicks, with Van Gundy a Knicks assistant, for the NBA championship. And “Clutch City” was born.

“I could tell he had that ready as soon as we won Game 2,” Rockets guard Bob Sura said. “That’s the first thing out of his mouth. We’re all aware of it now.

“The locker room was clearly excited. Guys were pretty fired up. He came in in his typical manner. ‘Sit down for a second. Does anybody know where the Clutch City thing came from?’ He refreshed our memory pretty quick.”

I remember Game 2 of that Rockets-Suns series. Back in those ancient days, all first-round and some second-round home games were only available on pay-per-view. Being too cheap to spring for that (heck, I was too cheap to have cable back then), I watched the game at Griff’s on one of several huge screens they’d set up to accomodate the extra crowd. Man, were we all pissed when the Rockets coughed up that 20-point lead in the fourth quarter and went on to lose in overtime. The screaming headline in the Chron the next morning was “CHOKE CITY!”, which was the genesis of the “Clutch City” moniker after they came back and won.

Only 14 NBA teams have done what the Rockets have done in the series, winning Games 1 and 2 on the road.

Of those 14, only two failed to win the series, most recently the Suns, as the Rockets drove to their first championship, turning the Western Conference semifinals around in Phoenix after dropping the first two games at The Summit.

I guess if you want to be a pessimist, you could say that this means there’s a one-in-seven chance that Rockets will lose.

No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series.

Speaking as a Yankees fan, that’s very cold comfort. I’ll relax when this one is officially over, OK?

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  1. CrispyShot says:

    “The Rockets were told that their 1994 descendants lost the first two games”

    umm… wouldn’t they be “ancestors” or “predecessors”?

    Just sayin’…


  2. I don’t think the Yankees will have any problem with losing playoff series by blowing a 3-0 lead this year.

    In fact, I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs.

  3. Patrick says:

    I think my Mavs are going to take at least one from your Rockets in Houston, Kuff. Between some of the best team games on both ends of the floor in Games 1 and 2 in Dallas for the Rockets that I’ve seen from an NBA team all season and the worst team defensive effort I’ve seen all season long from the Mavs in Game 1 and the failure to dee up in the clutch in Game 2, I am sad to say that I think a Rockets win in the series is inevitable.

    Here are my Lone Star predictions: Rockets in 6 over Mavs and Spurs in 5 over Nuggets.