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Have you ever wondered what a ranking of every Phoenix Suns 1st round playoff series would look like? No? Well skim it anyway.
While watching the just completed 1st round of the NBA playoffs I got super jealous of all the other teams having fun and retreated into my world of nostalgia to explore the Suns past experiences.
For those of you new to Bright Side or relatively new to what I like to write about - let's just say I enjoy spending my Suns offseason researching and writing about the Suns past. It appeals to both the basketball and history nerd aspects that flow through me.
The Phoenix Suns have existed as a franchise since 1968. In the 46 seasons that have followed our beloved squad has made the playoffs 29 times. This had the Suns playing in a 1st round series - you guessed it - 27 times.
That's not a typo.
In 1970 there wasn't a "1st round" per se, they just started with the Western and Eastern Division Semifinals so that counts as 1st round for me.
What I'm not counting as 1st round is the 1976 playoffs where only two teams from each conference played in the 1st round while everyone else had a bye (Suns included) or the 1981 playoffs where the playoff structure of the time had 6 teams from each conference make the playoffs and gave the top 2 teams byes. Maybe you'll see the Suns spectacular choke job to a 40 win Kings team in a post about the 2nd round - if I decide to do that.
So for purposes of this post: 1st round = Opening Round of the Playoffs
Regarding criteria for what's sure to be THE definitive ranking of Suns first round playoff series - let's make it a few things:
I want to bore you first so we're going in reverse order. I assume you'll catch on to the format, but if you can't find an adult immediately.
Result - Lakers in 3
There is not much to offer on this one. The Suns had pretty much the same roster as they did on their surprise 1984 Western Conference Finals team (Larry Nance, Alvan Adams, Jay Humphries) but with Walter Davis hampered by a knee injury that left him out of action until February. Treasured acquisition Rick Robey - who I'll roast a little more below - played just 4 games in his second season with the Suns.
That made the Suns a 36 win team that somehow earned a playoff berth in a mediocre Western Conference and for that were presented to the 62-win Lakers as a sacrifice.
In a three game sweep, the Suns were beaten by 28, 17, and 16 in what was nothing more than a complete obliteration of an overmatched team. Of the 12 quarters played, the Suns only outscored the Lakers three times. In a bunch of blowouts that's kind of bad.
Los Angeles torched the Suns for 142 points in Game 1 and 147 in Game 2. The entirety of Game 2 is on YouTube if you hate yourself. Here's the start.
Result - Bucks in 2
The season after the Suns first Finals berth in 1976 was kind of a disaster as between injuries and ineffectiveness the team won just 34 games and missed the playoffs.
All that losing did provide them with the 6th pick in the 1977 draft which allowed them to select Walter Davis. Along with Davis the team added All-Star point guard Don Buse to the roster.
Davis was an immediate star - averaging 24.2 points per game as a rookie while Paul Westphal remained a star and Alvan Adams stayed consistent. The result was 49 wins and a return to the playoffs.
Milwaukee - who you'll notice was in the Western Conference at the time (which totally makes sense) - was in Year 3 of the post-Kareem era and had built a playoff team coached by a young Don Nelson. Their top players were some of your favorites - legends like Brian Winters, Marques Johnson, Dave Meyers, and Junior Bridgeman.
They also had young Alex English but he wouldn't really become the scoring force of nature he eventually was in the NBA until he arrived in Denver a few years later.
In 1978 the top 2 teams in each conference got byes into the semifinals and though the Suns had a better record than the Nuggets (who finished 48-34 to the Suns 49-33), Denver was granted the bye and 2nd seed due to their winning the Midwest Division.
This left the Suns playing a best of 3 series against the Bucks.
Game 1 was at Veterans Memorial but the Suns fell 111-103 after the Bucks outscored them by 12 in the 4th quarter, getting 31 points from Brian Winters and 24 from Marques Johnson.
Back in Milwaukee for Game 2 - and it's always fun when Game 2 is an elimination game - the Suns raced to an 11 point first quarter lead but it did not last. Despite 32 from Paul Westphal the Suns could not overcome Marques Johnson (who scored 15 straight points in the game) and they were swept out of the playoffs.
I guess it's noteworthy that this was the first time the Suns lost a playoff series to a lower seeded team. Also they'll probably never play the Bucks in the playoffs again but if they did it'd be in the Finals and I'd be cool with it.
Result - Blazers in 3
This was the lockout year - and we may never see a season as gross as the lockout year.
Following an exceedingly bizarre ordeal, Antonio McDyess left the Suns in the truncated offseason to return to Denver and in his place Phoenix added Tom Gugliotta to fill the power forward slot. The Suns also added center Luc Longley in free agency since as you know - Jerry loves mediocre centers.
Portland was in full Jail Blazers mode with their top 3 players being Isaiah Rider, Rasheed Wallace, and Damon Stoudamire. But those guys were still highly talented and won 35 of the 50 games played during the lockout season.
With Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant, and Aryvdas Sabonis banging inside against the Suns big man rotation of Longley, Cliff Robinson, and Tom Gugliotta - this was not a particularly competitive series.
Although the bigs were normally the story, model citizen Rider led the Blazers to a Game 1 win by scoring 25 points. In Game 2, Wallace and Grant had 22 and 21 respectively as Portland took the 2-0 series lead.
In Game 3 in Phoenix, the Suns held a 4 point lead with 4 minutes to play but the Blazers closed on a 24-10 run to sweep the series.
Memorable Moment :
Result - Spurs in 4
Following three years of being in title contention, the Suns decided the move to take them to the next level was dealing for a center. That center wound up being Hot Rod Williams and cost the Suns All-Star Dan Majerle. The lesson as always is never trust Jerry Colangelo when he wants to trade for a center.
After getting off to a 14-19 start the Suns fired Paul Westphal and reinstalled Cotton Fitzsimmons as head coach. With Cotton, Charles Barkley, KJ and the development of youngsters like Wesley Person and Michael Finley, the Suns were able to sneak into the playoffs with a .500 record.
San Antonio had surrounded star center David Robinson with rebounding menace Dennis Rodman and Sean Elliott. That combination of talent was enough for the Spurs to win 59 games and go into the playoffs as the 2nd seed in the West.
In the last game of the regular season Michael Finley injured his ankle which required him to miss the entire series. Without Finley - the Suns third leading scorer - things were tough for an already mediocre team.
San Antonio put the Suns away twice at Hemisphere arena - and although the Suns were able to steal Game 3 - the Spurs blew them away in Game 4 to take the series.
As for the Suns star center Hot Rod Williams - he was acquired to stop guys like David Robinson but failed to come close to doing that as The Admiral averaged 30 and 12 for the series.
Memorable Moment :
David Robinson torched the Suns for 40 points and 21 rebounds in Game 2. Here you can watch it if you enjoy seeing Hot Rod Williams get torched.
Result - Suns in 3
This was the 4th straight season that the Suns won more than 50 games but also the third straight year they weren't able to climb above the 4thseed in the Western Conference.
The primary roster move for the Suns was trading Xavier McDaniel to the Knicks but by getting Jerrod Mustaf and Trent Tucker they basically got nothing. McDaniel was added to the KJ, Chambers, Hornacek trio you all know and love.
San Antonio had won 56 and 55 games the previous two seasons and seemed on the way to another 50+ win season until David Robinson injured his thumb and would miss the remainder of the season. Without Robinson or starting forward Willie Anderson (who missed the final 24 games of the season) - the Spurs were not nearly the same team going into the playoffs.
The Spurs just didn't have the fire power to hang. The Suns won Game 1 on the back of a strong third quarter and won Game 2 although Tom Chambers missed the game due to injury.
Game 3 was a tight 101-92 contest but 22 and 11 from KJ and 22 points from Hornacek ended the series.
Phoenix would go on to lose to Portland in 6 games in the next round - the series that motivated the Suns to push hard for a ‘Charles Barkley type'.
Memorable Moment :
Tim Perry scored 31 points in Game 2 - which when his career ended served as his career high.
Result - Jazz in 4
The same two teams basically provided a mirror of each other's 1989-90 regular season as the Suns won 55 games and got the 4th seed while the Jazz won 54 and had the 5th seed.
From a roster perspective, the primary significant move for the Jazz was bringing in prolific shooting guard Jeff Malone from Washington to add to their Stockton/Malone duo while the Suns primary roster churn happened during the season when they dealt Eddie Johnson to the Sonics for Xavier McDaniel.
A pretty forgettable one if you're a Suns fan. In Game 1 in Phoenix, the Jazz annihilated the Suns 129-90 while shooting a blistering 65.1% from the field. Jeff Hornacek missed all 8 of his field goal attempts in his 31 minutes while Negele Knight led the team with 18 points.
If Negele Knight leads your team in scoring you either won by a ton or lost by almost 40.
The Suns returned to form in Game 2 and recorded a 102-92 win but home court advantage was lost and it wouldn't return. Utah controlled the 4th quarter in a Game 3 win and controlled the entire second half in the clinching Game 4.
Karl Malone poured in 38 points in the series finale to lead Utah.
Memorable Moment :
The internet indicates almost no memorable moments and I sure don't remember any. You might say Xavier McDaniel being basically invisible in the series was one since he scored less than 10 points per game and shot just 41.5%.
That ended the X-Man experiment.
Result - Nuggets in 3
Phoenix had retooled their roster a bit in the offseason by trading Truck Robinson to the Knicks for 4-time All-Star Maurice Lucas.
With Walter Davis healthy (but potentially doing who knows what in his down time) and Larry Nance taking a much bigger role - he nearly tripled his minutes played from his rookie season and started all 82 games - the Suns returned above the 50-win mark after a year away from it.
For that they earned another date with the Nuggets but this time the Suns had homecourt advantage. Denver was pretty much the exact same team as the last season and had almost the exact same record but they did acquire Danny Schayes so I'm sure they had title aspirations.
This entire series basically boiled down to an injury to Maurice Lucas. With Lucas, the Suns cruised to a 121-108 Game 1 victory.
The Suns lost Game 2 after Lucas went down with ligament damage to his foot in Game 2 and returned shorthanded for the rubber match.
In that game the Suns were still good enough to get the game to overtime but behind 42 points from NBA's leading scorer Alex English the Nuggets prevailed in overtime and won the series.
Memorable Moment :
The Lucas injury. Fully healthy the Suns would have probably beat Denver and would have been a tossup with San Antonio for a berth in the Western Conference Finals where they could have most likely lost to the Lakers.
Result - Kings in 4
The 2000-2001 season brought promise in Phoenix with both Backcourt 2000 and the electric Shawn Marion in Year 2 of their existence. The fun of Backcourt 2000 ended pretty quickly though when Penny Hardaway wound up having microfracture surgery and missed all but 4 games of the season.
With Jason Kidd still playing All-NBA 1st team basketball, Scott Skiles instilling a defense that saw the Suns finish 2nd in Defensive Rating (seriously, that happened), and Shawn Marion enjoying a breakout year the Suns were still able to win 51 games and make it back to the playoffs.
Sacramento was a team on the rise in 2000-2001. They had acquired Chris Webber 2 years earlier and after two straight 5 game first round playoff losses they were primed to take the next step.
They'd added Corliss Williamson and Bobby Jackson to their bench and added defensive stud Doug Christie to their starting lineup. Those three helped flank an already strong core of Webber, Vlade Divac, Jason Williams and Peja Stojakovic and Sacramento won 55 games. Those 55 were the most they had won in a season since 1963-64 which was 2 and a half cities back for the franchise.
Although the Kings had taken 3 of 4 games in the regular season, the Suns were able to surprise them in Game 1 behind 21 points from Shawn Marion and 18/14 from Jason Kidd.
That would be the high point of the series for the Suns.
The Kings smacked the Suns around in a 26 point Game 2 win and took home court advantage back when they closed a tied Game 3 on a 14-6 run.
Phoenix led Game 4 by 19 in the second quarter and Sacramento managed to miss 22 straight shots at one point but they were still able to rally by the Suns behind 37 from Peja Stojakovic. The win gave Sacramento their first series victory in 20 years.
Shawn Marion shot just 10/34 in the final 2 games of the series.
If you miss 22 straight shots in a game and still win I think that counts as pretty memorable. So it's that.
Result - Spurs in 4
After going through back to back mediocre seasons, the 1997-98 Suns changed their roster quite a bit a bounced back strong. Prior to the season, the Suns signed veterans Cliff Robinson and George McCloud as free agents while their big move was trading for Antonio McDyess.
Adding McDyess to a pairing with Jason Kidd - who was in his first full Suns season - was an absolutely dynamite combination that helped the Suns become a 56 win team.
Injuries struck in the late season as Danny Manning - the guy who would win that season's Sixth Man of the Year - again tore his ACL and missed the last several games and the playoffs. The Suns would also be entering the playoffs with a banged-up Rex Chapman who had a hamstring injury.
The San Antonio Spurs machine you see right now had its roots in the 1997-98 season. The year before, David Robinson was injured and played just 6 games, during that season General Manager Gregg Popovich fired Bob Hill after a 3-15 start and appointed himself head coach.
Although the Spurs had the NBA's 3rd worst record, they won the lottery and the right to select Tim Duncan. With Robinson healthy and Duncan immediately awesome the Spurs won 56 games - a 36 win improvement.
With Manning and a working Rex Chapman the Suns might have been solid competition in this series. Without those two - Chapman would appear in just 2 games - they were not.
Game 1 was the first of many playoff games for Tim Duncan - one I had the pleasure of attending - and he scored 32 points to lead the Spurs to a win.
The Suns were able to win Game 2 behind 22 points from George McCloud - including a 6/7 performance from three point range. Unfortunately when the series shifted to San Antonio, the Spurs rolled to a pair of relatively quiet double digit victories and the series win.
Memorable Moment :
Duncan takes over in Game 1. If you like nostalgia and don't mind heartbreak this video is for you:
Result - Suns in 4
Long live Backcourt 2000! When the Suns acquired Penny Hardaway in the offseason many people thought the Suns had a backcourt for the ages. Although those dudes wound up playing just 45 games together during the season and the Suns had to replace Danny Ainge with Scott Skiles after Ainge resigned - the team still won 53 games and made the playoffs.
With Jason Kidd sidelined with a late season ankle injury, Jerry Colangelo was able to coax Kevin Johnson out of his retirement to provide needed minutes at point guard.
Rodney Rogers won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award while averaging 13.8 points per game off the bench and shooting nearly 44% from the three point line. This was also the debut season of Shawn Marion but he was limited to 51 games with a knee injury.
San Antonio was the defending NBA champions and winners of 53 games but the story of their season occurred with just 4 games left in the regular season when Tim Duncan tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee.
Although Duncan tried to be ready (and this is a fascinating read), Popovich was not going to take chances with his 23 year old All-NBA 1st teamer.
Tim Duncan was out for the series and Jason Kidd missed the first three games. For those reasons I'm sure you could guess that this series was disgusting. Game 1 was a 72-70 Suns win where the top scorer in the game scored 17 points, Samaki Walker played 36 minutes for San Antonio, and Corie Blount hit the game winning free throws. Individually any of those four things would be enough to qualify as disgusting.
Game 2 saw some more lows as San Antonio put up a 9 point third quarter but still beat the Suns 85-70. Both teams shot less than 36% from the floor while the Suns torched the nets for 3 three pointers in 18 attempts.
When the series shifted back to Phoenix the Suns actually scored some points (101 to be exact) and took a 2-1 lead in the series. Todd Day scored 16 for the Suns. That wasn't the most points of any Sun but I really wanted to work it in.
Jason Kidd returned for Game 4 and his presence was enough to have the Suns offense running smoothly enough again to finish off the Spurs.
The only reason this series is even this high is because the Suns beat the defending champs.
Memorable Moment :
Kidd returning to the Suns lineup in the middle of a playoff series after he'd missed 6 weeks with a broken ankle is pretty impressive. And if you believe that he made a difference you should ask Gregg Popovich:
"Jason was a big difference," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said, "a huge difference. 'Big' doesn't do him justice, and not just because of the emotion. He played his fanny off."
Result - Suns in 4
When the Suns added point guard Steve Nash to incumbents Shawn Marion, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Joe Johnson things ignited rapidly in the desert. Phoenix caught the league completely by storm as they went from 29 wins to 62 and shot to the top of the Western Conference. You know this tale.
Memphis had built a solid roster behind Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier and was returning to the playoffs for the second time in their franchise history.
Hubie Brown had coached Memphis the previous season after being out of NBA coaching for 16 years. But during the 2004-05 health issues forced Brown to resign and he was replaced by another NBA coaching relic in Mike Fratello.
If you recall drama in this series then you probably recall this series a lot differently than I do.
The Suns hit 15 of 32 three pointers in a Game 1 win to take that contest. In Game 2, the Grizzlies held a 97-92 lead with 4:18 left before the Suns closed the game on a 14-4 run and held serve at home.
Game 3 was a 20 point rout in which Amar'e Stoudemire scored 30 points to lead the Suns and in Game 4 the Suns finished the sweep on the back of a 39-20 first quarter for a lead they never relinquished.
I'm basically putting this series away from the bottom because of the aesthetics of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns.
The series set up a Suns run that would see them fall to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Memorable Moment :
Amar'e Stoudemire baptizes Stromile Swift in Game 3:
Result - Spurs in 5
Trying and failing with the Seven Seconds or Less style of play made GM Steve Kerr decide trading Shawn Marion for Shaquille O'Neal was maybe something that could work. While the Suns were 34-14 and in first place in the West when the made the trade they finished just 19-13 and were stuck with the 6th seed and another date with the Spurs. Everything was tight in the West as winning just three more games would have had the Suns in the top spot.
San Antonio was the defending champion and had won 4 titles since 1999. You know who was on their roster.
Should I write about anything other than Game 1? I mean, the Suns led by as many as 16 during the game but San Antonio did San Antonio things and tied the game in regulation when Michael Finley hit a three. At the end of overtime Tim Duncan hit a three - something he hadn't done all season - to send the game to double overtime where the Spurs won.
The Suns did hold a 7 point lead at the half of Game 2 but San Antonio dominated the 3rd quarter (27-11) and took that game as well.
Back in Phoenix the teams traded blowouts before returning to the AT&T Center for Game 5. In a familiar movie, the Suns held a 4th quarter lead but a bevy of turnovers and missed shots clinched the series for the Spurs.
The game was the last in the Phoenix Suns head coaching career for Mike D'Antoni and is near the middle of the list basically on the strength of one game.
Memorable Moment :
Sorry guys - it was the Tim Duncan three.
Result - Suns in 3
For my money this was the best collection of talent the Phoenix Suns have ever had. Yes I'm aware of the boldness of that statement. Hell - at a minimum they're my #1 ‘What-If' in franchise history.
Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Danny Ainge, and AC Green were already Suns and they were joined in Phoenix by 29 year-old Kings star Wayman Tisdale and perhaps more importantly 28 year-old 4-time All-Star Danny Manning. Richard Dumas even returned from his drug suspension (but was basically a ghost of what he was).
Manning was so anxious to become a Sun that he agreed to a 1-year, $1 million dollar deal to do so - obviously highly under his market value.
Before Manning tore his ACL against the Rockets on February 5th, the Suns were a scalding hot 36-9. Without Manning the Suns finished 23-14 but the 59 wins were enough to get the Suns the 2nd seed.
Portland was in an interesting spot as they closed the book on the Clyde Drexler era in February of that season when the traded him to the Rockets for Otis Thorpe and a 1st round pick. Although they didn't have Drexler - the Blazers were still able to make the playoffs with 44 wins while being led by Rod Strickland and Cliff Robinson.
It wasn't a particularly competitive one.
Phoenix blew the doors off of Portland in Game 1 by a final of 129-102 behind 29 from Barkley, 25 from Majerle (7/10 from three), and 21 from Tisdale.
KJ led the Suns in Game 2 with 28 points while AC Green added 20 with 15 rebounds as the Suns picked up another victory.
If you feel like watching every minute of Game 3 you can do that here but the long and the short of it is that Charles Barkley torched Portland for 47.
This of course led to the Suns playing the Rockets in the 2nd round for the second straight year and blowing a 3-1 series lead. Sigh.
Memorable Moment :
Not a particularly memorable series but yeah, it's the Barkley torching.
Result - Suns in 5
A year before the Suns had made the Western Conference Finals without Amar'e Stoudemire. With their All-Star big man back the team struggled at first - starting just 1-5 - but after rolling off winnings streaks of 15 and 17 games they cruised to 61 wins and the second seed in the Western Conference.
Besides welcoming back Amar'e the only real roster change from the year before (core of Nash, Marion, Bell, Barbosa, Diaw) was losing Tim Thomas to the Clippers and signing Marcus Banks for entirely too much money.
Leandro Barbosa won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award and averaged a career high 18.1 points per game.
The Lakers hadn't made really any major changes to their roster form the previous season either. A shame for them as beyond Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom they had a bunch of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown-looking spare parts. While they only won 42 games that was enough to get them into the playoffs.
This was the dramatically less interesting of the two Suns/Lakers first round series played by the Seven Seconds or Less Suns.
The Suns took Game 1 when - despite scoring 39 points - from Kobe he shot just 1/10 in the 4th quarter. Game 2 went to the Suns in a 28 point blowout.
Kobe Bryant scored 45 in Game 3 to help the Lakers erase a 17 point third quarter lead and take their only game of the series. The next game saw Steve Nash compile 23 assists -assisting on a ridiculously high 56.1 percent of the Suns field goals - and the Suns took a 3-1 series lead.
In Phoenix for Game 5, the Suns opened a 12 point half time lead and although the Lakers made the game close in the late third quarter - the Suns offense had enough to hold on. Since beating the Lakers is always awesome this gets to be 14th on the list.
The Suns would go on to play the Spurs for the NBA championship in the 2nd round.
Nothing really stands out to me but Barbosa was pretty awesome the entire series - averaging 21.2 points per game in the 5 game set including hitting high marks of 26 twice.
Result - Suns in 3
After a devastating drug scandal and missing the playoffs for three straight years the Suns desperately needed a shot in the arm. They got several.
At the tail end of the 1987-88 season they dealt All-Star forward Larry Nance to Cleveland in a deal that brought Kevin Johnson and Mark West to Phoenix. In the offseason they brought back former coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, drafted Dan Majerle, and signed unrestricted free agent Tom Chambers. Then they threw it all together and won 55 games - a 27 game improvement over the previous season.
Denver was still playing Doug Moe basketball in the late 80's and even though he was 35, Alex English was still an elite scorer and Fat Lever and Michael Adams made for a dangerous back court.
The Nuggets had also added a familiar face to their bench as after 11 seasons in Phoenix, Walter Davis signed with them as a free agent.
Game 1 was tight as Davis poured in 34 points off the bench for the Nuggets in his playoff return to the Madhouse but behind 26 from KJ and Chambers the Suns pulled out a 104-103 win. Game 2 was all Suns from start to finish as KJ again led the way with 34 points and 14 assists in 41 minutes.
It looked like Denver would stave off elimination in Game 3 when they carried a 13 point lead into the 4th quarter but a 42-20 Suns blitz ended the Nuggets hopes and the series.
For the series, KJ averaged 30.7 points, 13 assists, and 2.3 steals. KJ was awesome.
Since it was the first series win for the Suns since 1984 - it winds up 13th on our list.
The Suns would advance to the Western Conference Finals where they were swept by the Lakers.
Memorable Moment :
During KJ's 34/14 explosion in Game 2 - he went 18/19 from the free throw line. The 19 free throw attempts was the 2nd most he took in his 105 playoff games and one of only six times he shot that many in his entire career.
Result - Suns in 3
Having made the NBA Finals the previous season, the Suns were firmly in roster tweaking mode to try and put themselves over the top. Tom Chambers had departed via free agency but in his place came AC Green and Joe Kleine.
The real blow for Phoenix came in September when newly re-signed Richard Dumas (5 years, $9 million) was suspended indefinitely in September of 1994 for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy. He would not play for the Suns during the 1993-94 season.
Despite the Dumas loss and Barkley/KJ each missing more than 15 games the Suns still won 56 games and went into the playoffs as the three seed.
Golden State had won 34 games the previous season but a draft day trade landed them stud rookie power forward Chris Webber. Adding Webber to veteran Chris Mullin, and a 23 year old rising Latrell Sprewell was enough weapons for Don Nelson to build a 50-win team.
It was a sweep and although none of the games was decided by more than 7 points I don't think the Suns were ever particularly threatened.
Charles Barkley bullied the Dubs with 36 in a Game 1 win while KJ poured in 38 in a Game 2 win. That left the Suns headed to Golden State with a chance to put the series away. Say what you will about Charles Barkley but the guy knows how to put a series away with style.
In the Suns Game 3 win, Barkley tortured the Warriors to the tune of 56 points on 23/31 shooting from the field. He was so hot that the 26.6% career three pointer shooter hit 3 of his 4 attempts from long range. Good job, good effort C-Webb.
The Suns would go on to win the first 2 games of their second round series with Houston before losing 4 of the final 5 games and dropping the series.
Memorable Moment :
Come on. It's the 56 for Barkley.
Result - Suns in 3
With effectively the same core of players that made it into the Western Conference Finals the season before and a full season of Truck Robinson (who'd been acquired in the previous season), the Suns won 55 games -a franchise record at the time.
Paul Westphal and Walter Davis were 1980 All-Stars and really there's not a whole lot left to say about these Suns other than they were pretty darn good.
Kansas City - the team that would be their first round opponent - was coached by Suns legend Cotton Fitzsimmons and led by the dangerous Otis Birdsong. The shooting guard out of Houston was the 2nd pick in the 1977 draft and was an All-Star twice in his first 3 seasons.
In Game 1 the Suns held a 19 point lead in the third quarter but had to hang on for dear life in a 96-93 Phoenix win. The Kings missed 10 of their 20 free throw attempts to help the Suns to the win.
Kansas City took Game 2 at home despite being outscored by 13 in the third quarter by getting 32 from Scott Wedman and 30 from Otis Birdsong.
During a deciding Game 3, the Suns used a big second quarter to take the lead and cruise to a 15 point win. Alvan Adams scored 19 points and yanked down 20 rebounds to lead the Suns.
Memorable Moment :
Truck Robinson went down with a knee injury during Game 2 of this series and would play just one game in the Suns 2nd round 4-1 series loss to the eventual champion Lakers.
Result - Suns in 3
As referenced above 1981 got skipped as the Suns won 57 games and earned a bye through the first round. Unfortunately in one of the biggest gags in Suns playoff history - our boys lost to a 40-win Kansas City team in 7 games in the 2nd round.
That team had added Dennis Johnson in a huge trade for Paul Westphal and rookie point guard Kyle Macy out of Kentucky.
The roster was pretty much the same for 1981-82 (adding a rookie Larry Nance - who wasn't really Larry Nance yet) with the rather large exception that Walter Davis having fractured his elbow in the preseason and missing two months of the season. That helped the Suns fall back to 46 wins and the 5th seed in the West.
Their first round opponent in the playoffs would be Doug Moe's Nuggets. If you know anything about the history of the NBA you know that Doug Moe's Nuggets scored. A lot. For those of you into Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating - they were 1st in the former and last in the latter. For those of you who don't understand advanced statistics - they were awesome at awesome and sucked at defense.
The Suns dropped Game 1 on the road after Denver ran them off the floor 40-21 in the third quarter on their way to a 129-113 win. Game 2 was a different story as the Suns put up a 40-21 quarter of their own in the first and never trailed in a 126-110 win.
Game 3 was a back and forth affair which the Suns took 124-119. Walter Davis scored 30 points in just 28 minutes while Dennis Johnson added 26 and Truck Robinson had 23 and 9 to help the Suns advance.
For sheer volume of points alone, this ends up high on the list. Both teams could run and gun in a highly pleasing manner.
Unfortunately the Suns were swept by the Lakers in the next round.
Memorable Moment :
Games 2 and 3 were on back to back nights in two different cities. Can you imagine the NBA doing that sort of thing nowadays? I'm writing this part on a Sunday afternoon where the first round of the playoffs is just ending after it began 15 days ago.
Result - Suns in 6
I think a lot of us remember being on this site during this season - in fact I think it's when many of us found it. Our Suns came into the season with pretty mediocre expectations and the prospect of Amar'e Stoudemire needing to be traded before he left for nothing in free agency.
The Suns scuffled a bit in December and January but closed the season on a 28-7 tear to claim the third seed in the West. Playing for his contract Amar'e was the best Amar'e. Bully ball!
Portland had a solid roster but they were injury depleted with Greg Oden getting hurt in December (he JUST came back from that this year) and Brandon Roy basically watching his career end. They did still have LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller, and Nic Batum.
Game 1 was all Andre Miller as the veteran guard took advantage of a favorable defensive assignment and went wild for 31 points - including 15 in the 4th quarter that saw the Blazers take the lead and the game.
In Game 2 Alvin Gentry switched Grant Hill onto Miller and basically put an end to his reign of terror. In related news the Suns won Games 2 and 3 in routs. Jason Richardson scored 42 points in Game 3.
Brandon Roy made a surprise appearance in Game 4 and when he checked into the game the Rose Garden basically exploded. Portland rode that, plus 31 from LaMarcus Aldridge to a Game 4 win.
Back in Phoenix for Game 5, the Blazers leapt out to a 23-11 lead but the Suns controlled the rest of the game and won 107-88. Channing Frye led the Suns with 20 points and 8 rebounds and proved to be an awesome playoff basketball player forever.
The Suns had a 16 point third quarter lead in Game 6 but gave it all the way back in the 4th quarter and Portland tied the game with under 8 minutes remaining. Fortunately Jason Richardson was a complete bad ass that series and took control of the game on a personal 7-0 run which staked the Suns to a lead they wouldn't surrender.
Phoenix would go on to vanquish the Spurs in a sweep before bowing out to the Lakers in 6 games in the Western Conference Finals.
Grant Hill ends Jerryd Bayless.
Result - Suns in 5
After winning 53 games the season before, Jerry Colangelo decided making one of the worst trades in Suns history would be a good idea. Satisfying his career long love of mediocre big men - Colangelo dealt All-Star and future Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson to Boston for a backup center in Rick Robey.
Other moves included bringing Paul Westphal back as a free agent and trading for James Edwards.
All three of those players struggled with injuries as the Suns slipped to 41 wins and snuck into the playoffs despite a 10-31 road record.
Portland won 48 games with a team led by Jim Paxson, Mychal Thompson, and Calvin Natt.
This was the first year the NBA switched to the Best of 5 format for the first round.
Although the Suns sucked on the road during the regular season they managed to go 2-1 in this series, including an upset win in the deciding Game 5.
Each of the first 4 games were decided by 10 points or less - including Game 3 when the Suns outscored Portland by 10 in the 4th quarter to earn a 106-103 win.
In Game 5 the story was the Suns controlling the 2nd half as they won 117-105. Walter Davis led the Suns with 29 points.
Phoenix went on to a surprise Western Conference Finals run where they fell to the Lakers in 6.
Memorable Moment :
The Suns got 4 total points in 3 games from Rick Robey while Dennis Johnson helped the Celtics to the NBA championship. No bitterness here.
Result - Spurs in 6
The Jason Kidd era in Phoenix gave way to the Stephon Marbury era and after a year off from playoff action, a scrappy and young Suns team won 44 games and returned to the playoffs.
The roster was beginning to take the shape most of the readers here were familiar with as Shawn Marion had become an All-Star and a 20 year old Amar'e Stoudemire won Rookie of the Year.
The Spurs were 4 years removed from their last title and were in the midst of transitioning the roster to incorporate a young Tony Parker - who was in his second year as a starter - and a rookie version of Manu Ginobili.
Tim Duncan was at the absolute apex of his powers as he won the second of back to back MVPs to lead the Spurs to a 60 win season.
Phoenix was obviously overmatched but competed. Game 1 was a thriller as Amar'e Stoudemire improbably banked in a three pointer to tie the game late in regulation and Stephon Marbury hit a running three pointer at the buzzer in overtime to give the Suns the win.
Games 2 and 3 went comfortably to the Spurs but the Suns evened the series when Jake Voskuhl hit a game winning jump hook over Tim Duncan to secure the win. If you had Voskuhl game winner as a bet with anyone you probably won a lot of money.
San Antonio led by as many as 24 during Game 5 but while the Suns were able to slice the lead to 6 with 1:49 left in the game they got no closer. Malik Rose somehow had 27 points for the Spurs- the third highest total of his NBA career.
The Suns briefly led a couple times in the 4th quarter of Game 6 but a triple double from Tim Duncan was enough to put the Spurs through to the next round. San Antonio would go on to win their 2nd NBA championship.
Stephon Marbury for the win!
Result - Suns in 3
After flirting with it a couple times - the Suns won 50 games for the first time during this season. They also made a huge roster move, acquiring Truck Robinson in January for the bargain cost of Ronnie Lee, Marty Byrnes and a pair of first round picks.
Truck was an All-Star who like most guys named Truck had defining traits around how soft and cuddly he was. Or he was a bruising forward in his prime who rebounded like crazy. You decide. Robinson was flanked by Paul Westphal, Walter Davis, and Alvan Adams for what was a really dangerous Suns team.
Portland had won a title in 1977 but a foot injury the following season sidelined their star Bill Walton for the remainder of that season and the entirety of the 1978-79 season.
Since the roster still had some talent on it with guys like Tom Owens, Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, and Klay Thompson's dad and Jack Ramsay was an awesome coach - the Blazers still made the playoffs as the 6th seed.
In this best of 3 the Suns took a tight Game 1 by a final of 107-103 behind 28 from Westphal and 25 from Walter Davis.
Back in Portland - the Suns went into the 4th quarter with a 3 point lead but saw it slip away as Portland evened the series and set the stage for a deciding third game.
During that final game, Portland held a 12 point lead in the 3rd quarter but the Suns blitzed them in the 4th quarter - outscoring the Blazers 33-15 to take the series. Westphal and Davis again led the Suns with 26 and 23 apiece.
The Suns would advance to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Sonics in 7 games. I'm sure this will be addressed in an upcoming heartbreaking post.
In the deciding Game 3 - the Suns opened the 4th quarter on a 14-0 run which helped put the Blazers in the ground.
Result - Suns in 5
With their core in place the Suns made only a few tweaks to their roster for the 1989-90 season. One of those was swapping the superfluous Armen Gilliam for a former Laker glue guy in Kurt Rambis (and a pair of second round picks). They also traded away Ed Nealy which is utterly tragic until you realize he returned the next summer.
The result was a solid 54 wins and the 5th seed in the West.
Utah's Stockton and Malone combo was on the rise as they won a franchise record 55 games in Jerry Sloan's first full year as head coach. That said it should have been a lot better since the Jazz finished the season just 5-8 and lost the Midwest Division and the #2 seed by just 1 game to the Spurs.
It was a weirdly uneven series which started with three blowouts and a Kevin Johnson intestinal virus. The virus limited KJ to just 9 minutes in Game 1 as the Jazz picked up an easy 17 point win. Johnson returned in Game 2 and led the Suns with 22 points while Mark West pulled down 21 rebounds. As per usual Mark West was underrated.
Game 3 saw the Suns cruise again behind 29/12 from KJ which was enough to offset the 22/19 from John Stockton. Those were some fun point guard battles for anyone who remembers.
With a shot to eliminate the Jazz in Game 4 - in Veterans Memorial, a place Utah hadn't won in 4 years - the Jazz beat the Suns behind 33 from Karl Malone to force a 5th game back in Utah.
During Game 5, the Jazz held a 91-81 lead with 8:21 remaining but the Suns rallied behind a dozen points from Tom Chambers over the next 4 minutes and a banked free throw line jumper from Eddie Johnson to take a 102-100 lead. Karl Malone would tie the game with 14.9 seconds left, giving the Suns an opportunity to win the game.
KJ kicked the ball to Mike McGee in the post who was double teamed which resulted in KJ throwing up an off-balance jump shot that fell through the basket with just .8 seconds remaining. Series to the Suns.
Phoenix would surprisingly take down the Lakers in the 2nd round before falling to the Blazers in the Conference Finals in the first of several series that made me hate Terry Porter.
Memorable Moment :
The KJ series winning jumper of course. I am beyond infuriated that I was unable to dig up a YouTube clip. And I really tried. The Suns website seemed to have it but the dumb link was broken. If someone is reading this and can get the clip - do that please and I'll give you all the internet points.
Result - Sonics in 5
1996-97 was a weird season for the Suns. Before it began the team closed the book on the Charles Barkley era by dealing him to the Rockets for 40 cents on the dollar. That quarter, dime and nickel took the form of Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Chucky Brown and Mark Bryant.
Those 4 joined KJ, Wesley Person, Michael Finley, Hot Rod Williams, and Danny Manning to make up the majority of the Suns roster. Just before the season began the Suns also added shooting guard Rex Chapman to the mix.
All those names got off to an 0-13 start - the worst in franchise history - which saw Cotton Fitzsimmons step down 8 games in and turn the steering wheel over to Danny Ainge. But the biggest move was yet to come.
With the Suns sitting at 8-19, GM Bryan Colangelo struck a deal with Dallas that brought Jason Kidd to Phoenix at a cost of Finley, Cassell, and AC Green. Kidd was injured in his first game as a Sun and missed about 6 weeks but when he returned the Suns caught fire - going 22-10 down the stretch and making their way into the playoffs.
Seattle was coming off of a Finals berth in 1996 and had the same primary core of Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, and Sam Perkins. For lack of a better description - they were really good.
Phoenix scored a huge upset in Game 1 at Key Arena when Rex Chapman exploded for 42 points to lead the Suns to the 106-101 road upset. The 42 points wound up serving as Chapman's career high.
The Sonics obliterated the Suns by 44 in Game 2 as the Suns shot an impressive 26.9% from the field but Phoenix had the road win they arrived to get.
Back at America West Arena for Game 3, the Suns survived a 34 point barrage from Gary Payton (including 8/14 from three) to take the series advantage back. Wesley Person (who I still view as pretty underrated) led the Suns with 29 points and had 6 three pointers of his own.
In Game 4, the Sonics led by 12 with only 2 minutes left but a Suns rally saw left them with the ball and just 3 seconds remaining on the shot clock. At that point Rex Chapman hit a miraculous off balance three pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime (see below).
Since Suns fans shouldn't be afforded too many nice things, the Sonics controlled overtime and then routed the Suns in Game 5 to win the series.
Seattle would fall to Barkley and the Rockets in the next round.
Memorable Moment :
Rex Chapman hits one of the greatest shots I've ever seen to tie Game 4 and send it to overtime. This shot alone puts this series high on the list.
Result - Lakers in 7
The Suns were in just their 2nd NBA season and coming off a 16 win campaign (which is still the worst in franchise history despite the best efforts of Michael Beasley). But what they had in Year 2 that they didn't have in Year 1 was Hall of Fame forward Connie Hawkins.
Hawkins had been blackballed from the NBA due to a point shaving scandal he basically had nothing to do with (seriously). Following years playing with the Pittsburgh Rens of the ABL, Harlem Globetrotters, and Pittsburgh/Minnesota Pipers of the ABA, Hawkins sued the NBA and in a settlement reached in 1969 he collected $1.3 million dollars and entry into the NBA.
After winning a coin flip with Seattle for Hawkins' rights - the Suns had their first big-time star.
Obviously Hawkins had a major impact - becoming an All-Star in his first season - but the turnaround for Phoenix wasn't his alone. All-Star guard Gail Goodrich and the Original Sun Dick Van Arsdale were still in Phoenix while the team acquired bruising forward Paul Silas from Atlanta.
38 games into the season Johnny Kerr resigned as head coach and then GM Jerry Colangelo took over coaching duties. All that resulted in a 39 win season - a 23 win improvement over the expansion year.
As for the Lakers - they were predictably Lakery. They were in just their 10th season in Los Angeles and though they'd yet to win the title in LA (they won several in Minnesota) they'd made the Finals 6 times in that period - including the previous two years.
The roster featured Hall of Famers like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain but injuries limited Baylor to 54 games and Chamberlain to 12. Wilt played the first 9 games of the season before injuring his knee and missing all but the final 3 games of the regular season.
Even with Baylor and West being selected for the All-Star game - the Lakers won just 46 games, 9 less than the season before.
With Chamberlain back, the Lakers were big-time favorites and when LA predictably pounded the Suns in Game 1, it seemed like those thoughts were confirmed.
In Game 2 Hawkins turned in a gem - scoring 34 points while adding 20 rebounds and 7 assists - and leading the Suns to their first playoff win.
Back in Phoenix for Game 3 - a game which was the first sellout crowd in franchise history - the Suns outscored the Lakers 68-52 in the 2nd half and cruised to victory behind 29 points from Gail Goodrich. Game 4 was another Suns win and another great performance by Goodrich (34 points) and the Suns were staked to a 3-1 lead.
Since blowing 3-1 series leads is fun, the Suns got smoked in Game 5 while surrendering 138 points and lost Game 6 when the Lakers outscored the Suns by 11 in the 4th quarter in what was a tie game.
In Game 7 the Lakers were done screwing around and hammered the Suns from start to finish. They led by 23 at half time and won the game by 35.
The Lakers would go on to lose in the Finals again while the Suns would take a playoff sabbatical until 1976.
Lakers announcer Chick Hearn gave Veterans Memorial Coliseum the nickname "Madhouse on McDowell". It's because of that we have a place for SouthernSun to post internet memes.
Result - Suns in 7
2005-2006 was the second year of the Seven Seconds or Less era and even after losing Amar'e Stoudemire to microfracture surgery the Suns still had enough fire power to be a playoff threat. Shawn Marion had possibly the best season of his career and Steve Nash won the NBA MVP for the second year in a row.
The big roster change from the previous season was that after a contract dispute Joe Johnson was dealt to Atlanta in exchange for Boris Diaw and two first round picks. Diaw made a surprising immediate impact as he was selected the NBA's Most Improved Player. Raja Bell was also added as a free agent and he would help fill the gap provided by Johnson's departure.
The final move that built the 2005-2006 Suns was the March pickup of Tim Thomas. The mercurial veteran forward had been shelved by the Bulls since early in the season after complaining about his role and being sent home. When he cleared waivers he was added to the Suns roster and became an immediate rotation player.
As for the Lakers - this was the second year for them after they dealt Shaq and the first time they made it back into the playoffs. Year 1 was a 34-win wreck that saw Rudy Tomjanovich resign after 43 games but Phil Jackson opted to return and coach a Kobe Bryant at the peak of his power.
Beyond Bryant the Lakers had Lamar Odom. The rest of the roster was kind of hilarious. Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, Brian Cook, and Kwame Brown were all starters. So, yeah the fact that they won 45 games was a testament to a 27 year-old Kobe Bryant who averaged 35.4 points per game with 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Phoenix obviously entered the series as the heavy favorite and won Game 1 behind 22 points and 15 rebounds from Tim Thomas. Then things went sideways as the Lakers strategy of pounding the tiny Suns roster inside worked to near perfection.
The Lakers took a 15 point lead into halftime of Game 2 and while the Suns were able to close the lead to 4 late they fell at home and lost home court advantage. In Game 3 the Suns shot plenty well enough to win but a 16-3 offensive rebounding advantage for the Lakers was enough to overcome a 6/18 shooting performance from Kobe.
Game 4 was incredibly tight most of the way but with 12 seconds remaining the Suns had a 4 point lead and the ball. Boris Diaw made just one of two free throws to extend the lead to 5 but Smush Parker hit a three with 7 seconds left to slice the lead to 2. With 4 seconds left Steve Nash
was fouled "lost the ball" to Smush Parker who hit a streaking Kobe for a layup with .7 seconds left.
In the overtime period, the Suns led by one with the ball when Luke Walton "forced a jump ball" with Steve Nash with 6 seconds remaining. Off the jump ball Kobe hit a 17 footer as time expired to give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead.
Game 5 was a Phoenix rout that was highlighted by Raja Bell being ejected for clotheslining Kobe Bryant. Boris Diaw had 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists to lead the Suns.
Back in LA for Game 6, the teams played another thriller. The Lakers held a 3 point lead late until Tim Thomas hit a clutch three pointer with 6 seconds left to tie the game and help send it to OT. The Suns controlled the OT period from start to finish and sent the series to 7 games. Phoenix won despite Kobe popping off for 50 points on 20 of 35 shooting.
Depending on who you were Game 7 was probably a bit of a disappointment. And what I mean by that is Game 7 was a disappointment if you were anything but a Suns fan or a Kobe hater. Phoenix led by 15 at halftime when Kobe decided to get all passive aggressive. In the second half Bryant shot just three times and scored only one point while the Suns closed out a blowout and the series win.
The Suns moved on to defeat the Clippers in round 2 before losing to Dallas in 6 in the Western Conference Finals.
I suppose I could go with Kobe's game winner or Thomas' clutch three but it's much more fun to make it Raja Bell becoming a Suns legend by clotheslining Bryant.
Result - Suns in 5
Although the Suns were a regular 50 win team in the late 80's and early 90's as you can tell from the previous entries on this list they were unable to push through to the next level.
Enter Charles Barkley.
After dealing Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang to Philadelphia, the Suns acquired one of the top 5 players in the NBA in Barkley. To round out the roster the Suns signed Danny Ainge to replace Hornacek, drafted Oliver Miller, and added forward Richard Dumas in the middle of the season after he was reinstated by the NBA.
Long time coach Cotton Fitzsimmons had stepped down and turned the team over to former Suns star and assistant coach Paul Westphal to lead this squad.
With Barkley and company joining All-Stars Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, and Tom Chambers the Suns dominated the league on their way to a franchise record 62 wins. Charles Barkley would become the first Phoenix Sun to win the NBA's MVP.
Los Angeles was in Year 2 of the post Magic Johnson era and while they had remnants of Showtime in James Worthy, AC Green, and Byron Scott - they were a 39 win team that wasn't considered much of a threat. In fact, the Suns won all 5 matchups with the Lakers in the regular season - the first time Phoenix had swept the Lakers during the regular season.
Considering their regular season success against the Lakers you probably couldn't blame the Suns for thinking they'd win comfortably. Even without Kevin Johnson in Game 1 the Suns expected to win.
What they didn't expect was 35 points from Sedale Threatt (the 4th most points of his entire career) and to not score once in their final 7 possessions. Despite 34 points and 15 rebounds from Barkley the Lakers stole Game 1.
In Game 2 it appeared the Suns had righted the ship when they took a 5 point lead into the 4th quarter - then they scored 11 points in the 4th quarter. Barkley shot just 8/24 from the field and although KJ had returned, the Lakers won the game and took a 2-0 lead.
Following the loss Paul Westphal delivered a press conference that will be burned into my brain forever as he said the following:
"I'll tell you what's going to happen. We're going to go over to L.A. and win two games, and then we'll come back home and win Game 5, and everybody will say what a great series it was."
And that's exactly what happened.
Both Oliver Miller (11 points and 8 rebounds in 31 minutes) and Richard Dumas (18 points in 30 minutes) played big roles in the Suns 107-102 Game 3 win while Charles Barkley took the reins in Game 4 to even the series.
Game 5 was an absolute back and forth epic which the Suns had to tie with 13.6 seconds left when Dan Majerle hit an 18 foot jump shot. In the overtime period Oliver Miller delivered his greatest moment as a Phoenix Sun.
The big guy who had struggled with his weight all season long scored 9 points and grabbed 5 rebounds while blocking a shot in the overtime period alone and the Suns survived the Laker upset attempt.
Obviously the Suns went on to play in the NBA Finals where they lost to Will Perdue and the Chicago Bulls.
There were a lot of them but this video - particularly Paul Westphal's speech at the 2:08 mark - sums it up quite nicely.
That's number 1. That was an exceedingly long post and I'm sure there are typos I didn't catch.