Un po' preoccupato stavo curiosando su come storicamente si sono comportate nei playoff NBA le squadre che hanno perso gara 1 in casa. E mi sono imbattuto in questo masterpiece di uno dei miti assoluti del basket:
1994: The Houston Rockets dropped the first two games on their home floor to the Suns and even blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 2 --- the infamous "Choke City" game. But they turned right around to take the next two games in Phoenix and rallied to win Game 7 in Houston, later claiming their first championship by beating the Knicks.
1995: The Rockets jumped right back into the 0-2 hole against the Suns, only this time they didn't have home-court. Nevertheless, Hakeem Olajuwon led the comeback, Mario Elie nailed his "kiss of death" 3-pointer from out of the left corner and the Rockets won Game 7 in Phoenix and made it back-to-back titles when they swept Orlando in The Finals.
It was about an hour before Game 4 of the 1994 series in Phoenix when I asked Olajuwon if the Rockets were in a tough spot.
"Take a seat," he told me, pulling up a folding chair near his locker. "Let me explain it to you. This is a 'must' game for Phoenix. They have all the pressure. If they lose Game 4, they have lost their advantage and the series is tied 2-2. They know they will lose Game 5 in Houston and, even if they take Game 6, they know we will beat them in Game 7 in Houston. They know we will not blow our home-court again. It means everything in Game 7. So you see, it's all on them. We just play."
A year later, when the Rockets dropped the first two games once more to the Suns and were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 --- this time without home-court advantage --- I stopped by Hakeem's locker again.
"Let me get your chair," Olajuwon said with a knowing grin. "The pressure is all on the Suns. They must win Game 5 and close us out tonight. Because they know they do not have a chance to win Game 6 in Houston. Then, if it comes down to Game 7, they will be the nervous team and they will be playing with all the pressure."
I listened and then said, "But you told me last year, right here in this same room, that the situation was entirely reversed and home-court means everything in Game 7. 0-1, 0-2, 1-3. When are you worried?"
Oljauwon shook his head and chuckled as he laced up his sneakers.
"You know," said Hakeem the Dream, "when you're still good enough, none of that matters."