In the 2008-2009 NBA season the Los Angeles Lakers won 65 games on route to winning the Larry O’Brien trophy (fun fact Lebron lead the Cavs to a league best 66 wins). There was only one team that pushed them to 7 games.
The Houston Rockets.
This Rockets team ended up boasting one of the deepest rosters in the league and had everything gone right, probably would have won the NBA Finals. The Rockets roster consisted of Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace), Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Shane Battier, Von Wafer, Luis Scola, Dikembe Mutumbo, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, and a few more. Ron Artest was arguably in the last season of his prime averaging 17 points, Shane Battier would be given the moniker “The No Stats All-Star”, Aaron Brooks emerged to be a legit starter, Yao basically had his last season and averaged 20 points, and the rest of the team would provide valuable contributions to the throughout the season.
The Rockets finished with 53 wins and the 5th seed at the end of the regular season despite McGrady’s season ending micro-fractury surgery and secured a first round match-up with one of the most annoying teams in the league, the 4th seeded Portland Trail Blazers. The Rockets managed to dispatch Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge in 6 games setting up a second round match-up with the previous Western Conference Champions the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers were the best team in the West with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol leading the way and swept the regular season series with the Rockets. All signs pointed towards the Lakers making this a quick series however the Rockets had other plans. The Rockets stormed out the gate and won game 1. The Lakers won the next two with Yao going down with a season ending hairline fracture and sprained ankle in game 3. The Rockets would have 6 foot 6 Chuck Hayes start at center and and be without one of their leading scorers, surely this meant the end with the Lakers winning in 5 games however the Rockets had other plans. Houston would go on to win game 4 and 6 setting up the most exciting event in all of sports, a game 7. Unfortunately the game did not go the Rockets’ way. Kobe and the Lakers were on a mission from the outset leading 51-21 by halftime and eventually winning 89-70. The Lakers would go on to beat the Denver Nuggets in 6 and the Orlando Magic in 5 and Kobe would get his first ring without Shaq.
Really think about this.
No other team in the NBA was able to take the champions to 7 games.
The Rockets did it without their two best players.
Chuck Hayes started at center against 7 footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and the series still went to 7 games! Kobe himself said Tracy McGrady was one of the toughest players for him to guard and Yao was a force to be reckoned with. Put a healthy T-Mac and Yao on the team and there’s a very good chance that the Rockets win against the Lakers, and if they beat the Lakers there’s no doubt in my mind that they win the NBA Finals.
If the Rockets prevail against the Lakers how would that change the NBA landscape? Would we give Yao and McGrady the respect they deserve? How would people treat Kobe Bryant’s legacy? We’ll never truly know. Sadly this was yet another season in the Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming era where nothing ever seemed to go their way. Both of their injuries signaled the beginning of the end of their respective careers and for the McGrady and Yao era in Houston.
What if. Two words Houston sports fans have become used to.