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  • Writer's pictureKurtis Tatkenhorst

May 21- A Ralph Sampson buzzer beater keeps Lakers out of NBA Finals for the only time in 8 years

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

1986- On this day in Sports History, the Houston Rockets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1986 NBA Western Conference Finals. The Rockets won the series four games to one. The Lakers won 62 games in the regular season, but failed to make the NBA finals for the only time between 1982-1989. The Rockets were led by 7’4” Ralph Sampson and 7’0” Hakeem Olajuwon. The Rockets went into the series as underdogs to Lakers who were led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. The Lakers dominated the Western Conference by making the NBA Finals seven times between 1982 and 1989. The highly anticipated NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and the Celtics wouldn’t happen because of the Rockets upset series win.

The Rockets won game 5 of the series to officially eliminate the Lakers

on a buzzer beater by Ralph Sampson. The game was tied 112-112 with one second left. Sampson caught an inbounds pass and made a turnaround jumper before time expired to beat the Lakers 114-112. Sampson finished the game with 29 points and 5 rebounds while Olajuwon had 30 points and 7 rebounds. Olajuwon averaged 31 points in the series including 40 points in their game three win. Although the Rockets were able to upset the Lakers, they fell to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals four games to two. Sampson and Olajuwon would both go on to be NBA Hall of Famers.

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Read about what happened on May 20th in Sports History in 1991 and 1996 when Michael Jordan won NBA MVP-

Sources: “Top Moments: Ralph Sampson's Game-Winner Stuns Lakers in 1986 West Finals.”, NBA, 23 Aug. 2017,

“A Miracle Shot by Ralph Sampson vs Showtime Lakers.” Basketball Network, 22 May 2018,

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