Spurs memory No. 19: Rodman’s final Spurs incident upstages series-changing loss to Houston

Date: Tuesday May 30, 1995
Place: Alamodome, San Antonio
Score: Houston Rockets 111, San Antonio Spurs 90

Spurs Nation had never seen another player quite like Dennis Rodman.

The enigmatic power forward changed his hair color repeatedly during his two-season stint with the Spurs. He dotted his body with tattoos. He often refused to join his team’s huddles, opting to sit on the end of the bench with his shoes off.

He dated Madonna. And his stated fantasy was to play a game in the nude.

But his crowning moment came in his final home game with the Spurs.

After leading the Spurs back into a 2-2 deadlock in the 1995 Western Conference Finals against Houston, Rodman was benched after showing up late  for a practice on the day before Game 5.

The Rockets took advantage of Rodman’s absence to jump to an early lead they turned into an easy 111-90 victory that enabled them to take control of the series.

Late in Game 5, Rodman was involved in a lengthy tirade with then Spurs assistant coach Dave Cowens along the sidelines.

Both teams left the floor, Rodman remained slumped on the floor for several minutes after the game, removing his shoes as he watched the two teams return to the locker room.

“Don’t ask me why I didn’t start,” Rodman told the Express-News after the game.”I’m not the coach. I’m not in charge. Don’t ask me. Ask him. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it stands. End of interview.”

Rodman claimed he was sick, but other Spurs were nursing various maladies as well, Coach Bob Hill said.

However, Hill indicated he was more displeased with the power forward’s behavior.

“He was 35 minutes late, with no call in the Western Conference finals,” Hill said.

To make matters worse, Rodman didn’t step into his team’s locker room until 7:08 p.m. on game day, 38 minutes late for a game the Spurs needed to win desperately.

Rodman wasn’t inserted into the lineup until 4:49 was left in the first quarter.

By that time, Houston had already run up a 16-point lead and claimed an early advantage in the game. Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich inserted Mario Elie into the starting lineup and the Rockets responded by shooting 57 percent from the field.

Rodman finished with 12 rebounds in 34 minutes, but it wasn’t enough in his second benching of the playoffs. Earlier, he had been benched during a playoff victory over the Los Angeles Lakers after he failed to join a team huddle during the middle of the game. He had been suspended by Hill twice earlier during the 1994-95 regular season.   

During that 62-win season for the Spurs, Rodman led the league in rebounding for the fourth consecutive season – the only forward in league history to accomplish that feat. But his eccentricity on and off the court overwhelmed even a contending team like the Spurs, who clearly couldn’t block out the distractions he caused on and off the court.

By the time of the playoffs, his teammates were getting tired off his antics. 

“The only detriment has been the media coverage of Dennis,” Spurs center David Robinson told the Express-News. “The playing part of it, our guys have dealt with that all year long. We’re comfortable with that. With Terry (Cummings) and J.R. (Reid), we know we can win.

“The media is the hardest circus to deal with. Everybody gets tired of answering questions about Dennis’  hair or his pictures in the magazines. It takes away from what other people have done. Dennis is a distraction, at times, no question. But we’ve dealt with it.”

The Spurs committed only seven turnovers in a series-tying Game 4 victory at Houston. But that all changed in the disastrous first quarter when they had eight of their 22 turnovers that the Rockets eventually turned into 29 points. 

The Spurs trimmed Houston’s lead to 50-45 at the break and tied the score at 71 with 2:35 left in the third quarter. But the Rockets reclaimed the advantage with a closing 11-2 spurt at the end of the quarter and never trailed from there. 

Hill checked the Spurs into a hotel in San Antonio to help them regain the focus that helped them win back-to-back games in Houston to earlier even the series.

But it didn’t matter as Hakeem Olajuwon torched the Spurs for 42 points and Sam Cassell added 30 off the bench to enable the Rockets to reclaim the advantage in the series.  It was the Spurs’ fifth straight home playoff loss in what turned out to be their final home game of the season.

Olajuwon thoroughly outplayed Robinson, producing nine rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots to go along with his scoring binge.

Cassell scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to help put the game away. He chipped in with 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals, but Rodman’s antics upstaged everything else on the court.

“Along with Michael Jordan, I’m one of the most popular players in the league,” Rodman said after the series. “I’m one of the best players in the game, and everybody knows that. I’m going to Hollywood and work on my acting.”

He never came back to San Antonio – at least as a member of the Spurs. 

They said it, part I: ”Coach is trying to tame Dennis Rodman, but nothing can tame him. You just let him go play ball,” Rodman to the Express-News on Hill’s intentions.

They said it, part II “We have no pride. After losing the first two games at home (last week), I don’t think there’s a lot of room for us to have a lot of pride,” Robinson said to AP after the game.

They said it, part III “The hotel didn’t work,” Hill said, about staying in a hotel after the team’s earlier success on the road during the Houston series.

They said it, part IV: “I only expect for me to always do my best. But the game tonight was fun. I enjoyed this game,” Olajuwon on his monster Game 5 — his third 40-point game of the series.

They said it, part V:  “We all know that (Olajuwon) is the meat and potatoes of this team. The rest of us? Hey, we’re all good garnishes,” Houston guard Kenny Smith to USA Today about Olajuwon’s importance to his team.

They said it, part VI: “Not in a million years would I guess we’d lose three home games in this series. Now, it’s happened and we have to come back and try to win Game 6. I made a lot of turnovers and they probably hurt us as much as anything,” Robinson on the Spurs’ Game 5 loss.

They said it, part VII: “They just kicked our butts. No two ways about it. They got to the foul line. They got the rebounds. They got more shots. And it seemed like Hakeem made every shot. He had a phenomenal performance and we couldn’t match him.” Hill on the Spurs’ loss.

They said it, part VIII: “He broke our spirit. Every time we’d get close, he’d make a shot with the clock winding down, falling off one leg,” Hill on Olajuwon’s big night.

They said it, part IX: ”This is the strangest series I’ve ever been involved in. I can’t figure it out,” Tomajanovich on the visiting team winning the first five games of the series.

UPSHOT: Houston employed momentum from the victory to claim a 100-95 victory in Game 6, finishing the series upset. It marked the sixth loss in a row in playoff-elimination games in the David Robinson era. It ruined a season where the Spurs won a league-best 62 games and were set for homecourt advantage throughout the series … Not surprisingly, Rodman was dealt shortly before training camp the following season when he was swapped to Chicago for journeyman forward/center Will Perdue. Rodman and Jordan led the Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships as Rodman led the league in rebounds in each of the next three seasons. Perdue was a member of the Spurs for four seasons, including the team’s first NBA title team in his final season. After losing in the first round to Utah in the playoffs in the following season and starting 3-15 in 1996, Hill was fired as the Spurs coach.

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

No. 20:Rafter injury-riddled 3-15 start.

No. 21: Spurs for David Greenwood.

No. 22: Spurswith bubbly.

No. 23: Horry-Nash , may have sparked title run.

No. 24: Ice’s clandestine arrival .

No. 25: Barkleywith series-clinching shot.

No. 26: Silas becomes first Spur.

No. 27: Robinson makes history with .

No. 28: after crucial 1999 victory at Houston.

No. 29: on Halloween night.

No. 30: Torrid San Diego shooting

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