Houston Blasts Back Into NBA Finals

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets rid themselves of the Utah Jazz with a 94-83 victory for a 4-1 victory in their Western Conference championship series. And after eight years, a period in which three mini-dynasties came and went, the Rockets are back in the National Basketball Association Finals. It was a totally lopsided game until Utah struck with a 16-0 fourth-quarter run. But the Jazz were down by 24 when the spurt started and just couldn't catch up. Houston came out hitting almost everything it put up, took a 13-point lead after one quarter, built the lead as high as 22 in the second and avoided a "Choke City" breakdown in the second half. Everyone contributed. Robert Horry had his best game of the series, scoring 22 points. It was the same story for Vernon Maxwell, who hit four 3-pointers in the first period to give the Rockets the momentum they never lost. He finished with 19 points. Hakeem Olajuwon scored 22 points and Otis Thorpe had 11 points and 16 rebounds. The Jazz shot poorly right from the start and couldn't keep up with Houston's onslaught. Jeff Hornacek scored 21 points and Karl Malone had 31, but no on else played as if it were a do-or-die game, and that, more than anything else, led to the loss. So it's on to the championship round for Houston, which will begin June 8 at the Summit against New York or Indiana. It will be the third appearance in the finals for Houston, which lost to the Boston Celtics in 1981 and 1986. Houston started the game with a barrage of 3-pointers. Maxwell had four in the 8 1/2 minutes and Horry made two. Horry also had a pair of dunks and three free throws for 13 points, and the Rockets shot 67 percent for the quarter. Only two or three shots were contested by Utah, and Houston had 11 assists in the quarter for a 33-20 lead. In the second quarter, Houston started with a 12-4 run in which no shot was longer than 15 feet. The Rockets held Utah to 15 points in the period for a 53-35 halftime lead. Utah got within 56-42 early in the third as they started the quarter with a 7-3 run, but Houston came right back with a 10-4 run capped by Maxwell's fifth 3-pointer to increase the lead to 22 again, 71-49. It got to 26 with 36 seconds left on Olajuwon's falling turnaround from the corner, and when the scoreboard read 79-55 after three quarters. But Utah had 16-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 83-75. Houston went 5:21 without a point before Olajuwon scored on a jumper. Horry made a tomahawk dunk with 1:32 left and Kenny Smith made four foul shots in the next 30 seconds to get the lead back to 11 with a minute left. Houston now has a week off while the Knicks and Pacers batter each other out East. Among Houston's possible final-round opponents, the Knicks are a team that has been without a championship since 1973. The Pacers, before this year, hadn't even won a single playoff series since joining the league in the 1976 ABA-NBA merger.