Yeah - I did it again but wow the Phoenix Suns have played an insane amount of memorable 2nd round playoff series.
After spending an inordinate amount of time preparing a comprehensive ranking of each of the Suns 27 1st round playoff series, I decided to heed the call of the roughly 6 of you who wanted something similar for the Suns 2nd round playoff appearances.
In the Suns 46 seasons that have managed to reach the second stage of the NBA playoffs on 17 different occasions. So since its 17 - you'd assume it would be shorter, right? Well it isn't.
You guys - the Suns have played a LOT of really memorable 2nd round series. You could basically mix around any of the top 10 and still not be wrong. Hell, the highest scoring playoff game of all-time wasn't even enough to put a certain series in the top 10.
Since my 1st round criteria worked so well I'll just go ahead and repeat them. In the highly likely event that you need a reminder here they are:
- Entertainment value
- Memorable moments
- Competitiveness of series (ex. sweeps are bad)
- Whatever I want - including docking the series if star players were injured.
- New one - just because the Suns won doesn't mean it's going highest. Keep that handy for later.
Just like last time - going in reverse order.
(17) 1982 - (1) Los Angeles Lakers v. (5) Phoenix Suns
Result - Lakers in 4
The 1980-81 Phoenix Suns were a pretty damn good team that won 57 games and were the first seed in the West. Although they were upset in the playoffs by the Kings there wasn't a ton of need to tweak the roster. So other than drafting Larry Nance (who was barely a rotation player that season) they really didn't.
The real reason the Suns slipped back to 46 wins and the 5th seed was an injury to star Walter Davis that cost him 27 games and generally limited his effectiveness. Kyle Macy filled Davis backcourt role alongside Dennis Johnson while Truck Robinson and Alvan Adams patrolled the front court.
As you'll see below, the Lakers won the NBA Championship in 1980 behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. That edition of the Lakers was coached by Paul Westhead - as was the 1981 version which won 54 games but was upset in the 1st round of the playoffs by the Rockets.
In 1981-82 Magic and Westhead began to clash and after 11 games the Lakers championship winning coach was fired to make room on the bench for Pat Riley.
That along with moves like signing Mitch Kupchak, drafting Kurt Rambis, and trading for former league MVP Bob McAdoo helped push the Lakers to 57 wins and the top of the West. The number one seed earned them a bye while the Suns had to make it through the Nuggets.
This was not a particularly competitive series.
Both Game 1 and Game 2 went to the Lakers in blowout fashion (115-96 and 117-98 if you're interested). Jamaal Wilkes led the Lakers in scoring with 28 in Game 1 while Kareem did the honors with 24 in Game 2.
The final score of Game 3 might have been closer - the Suns would lose by just 8 - but Phoenix did trail by double digits until the waning moments. Wilkes again led Los Angeles, this time with 23 points.
I could bore you with the details but the Lakers won Game 4 as well - this time by only 5 - as Kareem and Wilkes shared top scorer duties this time with 24 each.
If you're a Laker fan I'm sure there are plenty. I am not a Laker fan so I'll just go ahead and pass on this one. All countdowns need to start somewhere.
(16) 2000 - (1) Los Angeles Lakers v. (5) Phoenix Suns
Result - Lakers in 5
These were your Backcourt 2000 Suns. Before all the injuries destroyed the hype, combining Penny Hardaway with Jason Kidd seemed like a ton of fun and had Suns fans really excited. Beyond those dudes the Suns had NBA Sixth Man of the Year Rodney Rogers, veteran big man Cliff Robinson, Tom Gugliotta, and a rookie version of Shawn Marion to form a surprisingly solid team.
The team was initially coached by Danny Ainge, but he abruptly quit in December and was replaced by Scott Skiles. With Skiles, the Suns went 40-22 to finish 53-29 overall and earn the 5th seed in the West.
A late season injury to Jason Kidd - which kept him out until the final game of the 1st round - allowed the Suns to bring Kevin Johnson out of a year-long retirement to join the team for the stretch run.
The Lakers on the other hand had just been able to draw Phil Jackson out of his own retirement and when he got his hands around Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant the result was 67 wins and clear status as the best team in the NBA.
This was the one year in his Hall of Fame career where Shaq won the MVP and he averaged 29.7 points and 13.6 rebounds while adding 3.8 assists and 3 blocks for good measure.
Basically Shaq was ridiculous, Kobe was rounding into awesome form, and the Suns were terribly overmatched.
Remember in the post I did about the first round when I said the Suns only got through to the 2nd round because Tim Duncan was injured? Well the Suns only got through to this round because Tim Duncan was injured.
The Lakers looked to confirm this fact when they slaughtered the Suns 105-77 in Game 1 behind 62 combined points from Shaq and Kobe. The only thing I'll say about the Suns performance that night was that Toby Bailey played 4 minutes.
Game 2 was a much more competitive contest and the Suns actually led by 2 with 46.8 seconds remaining after a Penny Hardaway put back. After a Kobe free throw, the Suns lead was one and Hardaway drove the lane but was rejected by the man who would years later compare him to Fredo Corleone.
With the Lakers trailing by 1, Kobe Bryant was well defended by Jason Kidd but somehow managed to hit a contested double-clutch jumper to give the Lakers the lead. Penny Hardaway threw up a desperation off balance 17 footer that missed everything and the Lakers went up 2-0.
Free throws were the story in Game 3 as LA shot 51 of them and took a 3-0 series lead with a 105-99 win. Kobe and Shaq again went for 62 combined while Penny scored 31 to lead the Suns. He was also a tad unhappy with the foul shot disparity:
"That team is already really good," [Hardaway] said. "It seemed like every time we'd go down and work hard at the offensive end, they'd go to the foul line. They're a great team, but it's kind of demoralizing when you foul every time down. That's unbelievable, man."
Elimination was briefly staved off in Game 4 when the Suns smashed the Lakers for a 117-98 win. Jason Kidd delivered a triple double with 22 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds. Jason Kidd was really good.
Not so surprisingly, the Suns went down with a whimper in Game 5 as their 23 first half points were somehow not enough to keep pace with the Lakers in an 87-65 loss. Todd Day led the Suns - yes LEAD - with 10 points.
Shaq and Kobe would go on to lead the Lakers to their first of three titles as a duo.
Kobe Bryant hits an extremely difficult jumper over Jason Kidd to give the Lakers a 2-0 series lead:
(15) 1980 - (1) Los Angeles Lakers v. (4) Phoenix Suns
Result - Lakers in 5
After making the Western Conference Finals in 1979 the Suns kept basically the same core of Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams, Walter Davis, and Truck Robinson. That core was plenty to win a then-franchise record 55 games.
While 55 wins would be enough to win a lot of divisions - it was only good enough for 3rd in the Pacific where the Lakers won 60 and the Sonics won 56.
Los Angeles had added Kareem Abdul Jabbar to their roster in the 1975-76 season and while the Captain was an all-time great, the Lakers didn't have enough on the roster to really push through to the next level. That was of course until they were gifted the #1 pick in the 1979 draft by way of the New Orleans Jazz who were forced to surrender three first round picks and a second round pick for the rights to sign Gail Goodrich.
You may have already guessed that this pick landed the Lakers Michigan State point guard Magic Johnson.
With Johnson on the roster and immediately flashing superstar talent, the Lakers leapt forward to 60 wins and the first seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns and Lakers had split the season series 3-3 so the hope was that Phoenix would be able to give their Showtime opponents all they could handle. What didn't help was the loss of Truck Robinson to a knee injury in Round 1 which limited him to just one game in the entire series.
Game 1 went to the Lakers in relatively clean fashion as Kareem put up 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks while Magic Johnson added a triple double in the Lakers 119-110 win.
The next game was a tight affair in which the Suns may have won had they not lost Walter Davis to an ankle injury with just under 7 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Even without Davis, the Suns took the game to overtime and had a chance to go ahead with 15 seconds left but Paul Westphal (who scored 37 points in the game) missed a shot and the Lakers held a 2-0 lead.
As the series returned to Phoenix, the Suns had their backs against the walls and managed to take a 1 point lead with 4:09 remaining in the game. On the next possession, the Lakers found Kareem who hit a layup for 2 of his 37 points and the Lakers took a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Phoenix managed to avoid the sweep by blasting the Lakers 127-101 in Game 4 but the Lakers used 35/16 from Abdul-Jabbar to return the blowout favor in Game 5 and win the series.
The Lakers would go on to dispatch the Sonics in 5 games in the Western Conference Finals before beating the 76ers in 6 to win the championship.
In Game 3, the Suns had managed to cut the Laker lead to 2 with 37 seconds remaining when Norm Nixon hit a clutch jumper to effectively seal the Laker win. Start at the 5:21 mark of this video.
(14) 1979 - (2) Kansas City Kings v. (3) Phoenix Suns
Result - Suns in 5
I'm almost certain you all remember the background of the 1978-79 Suns from my 1st round post but in the utterly staggering scenario where you didn't, I'll offer a refresher.
This version of the Suns was led by All-Stars Paul Westphal, Walter Davis, and Alvan Adams and added another stud in the person of Truck Robinson by way of a January trade. That combination of stars helped the Suns win 50 games for the first time in franchise history.
Opposing the Suns were the Kansas City Kings - a team that had made the playoffs just once in their 7 seasons in Kansas City. Although the Kings had won only 31 games a season before, they hired Cotton Fitzsimmons and that combined with a breakout 2nd season from Otis Birdsong (over 21 points per game and an All-Star berth), and rookie point guard Phil Ford, exploded to 48 wins and a Midwest Division title.
Despite being the 2nd seed to Phoenix's 3rd seed, Kansas City opened the series on the road in Phoenix since the Suns won more games than they did. In Game 1, the Suns had trailed by as many as 13 points in the third quarter but were able to rally on the strength of Paul Westphal's 25 and Walter Davis' 24.
For reasons described below, the series returned to Kansas City for Game 2 and the result was a Kings blowout. KC took a 61-42 lead into halftime and was never really in danger.
If you've ever watched an NBA game from the 1970's you'll notice that ball security wasn't a high priority - a fact highlighted by the Suns winning Game 3 108-93 despite turning the ball over a staggering 30 times.
Game 4 finished with nearly the exact same score save 1 extra point for the Kings and the Suns took a 3-1 series lead on their way back to Phoenix.
With a chance to close out the series in Phoenix, the Suns blitzed the Kings for 70 first half points and won in a laugher. Paul Westphal lead the charge for the Suns with 32 and the team advanced to the Western Conference Finals where they'd lose to the Sonics in 7 games.
Due to the bizarre schedule of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the series was alternating home court advantage on a game to game basis. The weirdness continued when Game 3 of this series was at Arizona State's Activity Center.
(13) 1992 - (1) Portland Trail Blazers v. (4) Phoenix Suns
Result - Blazers in 5
1991-92 was the 4th straight season that the Suns won at least 53 games but they had not climbed above 55. Sure that's not a lot to really complain about, but if NBA history has taught us anything - it's that teams get tired of being in the middle of the conference.
The Suns roster wasn't much different than previous years as they were still heavily reliant on Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Dan Majerle. The big difference from the year before was that they'd ended the ill-fated Xavier McDaniel experiment (one that cost them Eddie Johnson) when they dumped him on the Knicks for Jerrod Mustaf and Trent Tucker.
Portland had their third straight powerful team - winning 57 games behind Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams, and Cliff Robinson. They'd won 63 games in the 1990-91 season before being upset by the Lakers in the Conference Finals but had made the NBA Finals in the 1989-90 season.
The opener went to Portland when Terry Porter hit a pair of free throws to give the Blazers their first lead of the 4th quarter with 21 seconds remaining. The next time down, Porter poked the ball away from KJ (can be seen here at 3:01) and although the Suns got another chance to tie with 10 seconds left, Tom Chambers jumper fell short and the Blazers had a 1-0 lead.
Game 2 saw the Blazers explode to a 19 point 1st quarter lead but Phoenix rallied off the back of Kevin Johnson who scored 22 points (including 18 straight) in the 3rd quarter to help even the score. Not surprisingly, KJ couldn't keep up the break neck pace and the Blazers controlled the 4th quarter on their way to a 126-119 win.
Back in Phoenix, the Suns were able to win 124-117 behind 30 from Jeff Hornacek and 27 from Tim Perry.
The Suns had a chance to even the series in Game 4 and what followed was a completely insane 153-151 double overtime loss. I could write out the entire thing but the video below pretty awesomely captures what was an incredible basketball game. If you're skipping around and wondering why Steve Burtt was taking a clutch shot at the end of double OT, it's because KJ had fouled out at the beginning of the 2nd overtime period. To me that pretty much only excuses why he was on the floor and not why he was shooting.
Down 3-1 and probably a bit gutted from the Game 4 loss - the Suns weren't able to compete in Game 5 and fell 118-106.
Portland beat Utah in the Conference Finals but would lose to Chicago in 6 games after Chicago guard Bobby Hansen was able to put up 16 total points in the series.
That Game 4 thriller with its 301 points is still the highest scoring NBA playoff game of all-time. This whole video is basically worth a watch as the game is the only reason this series isn't lower on my list:
(12) 1989 - (3) Phoenix Suns v. (7) Golden State Warriors
Result - Suns in 5
Following a drug scandal that's been covered here on more than a few occasions, and three straight years of missing the playoffs the Suns needed to completely reshape their roster.
Out was Larry Nance, in was Kevin Johnson and Mark West. Also in were unrestricted free agent Tom Chambers, rookie Dan Majerle, and returning coach (and 1981 pain bringer) Cotton Fitzsimmons. All those pieces in place resulted in a 55 win season for the Suns - 27 more than the previous season.
Golden State enjoyed a resurgence of their own in 1989 as they went from 20 wins to 43 and made the playoffs under new head coach Don Nelson. The Warriors added NBA-ready shooting guard Mitch Richmond with the 5th pick in the 1988 draft and paired him with Chris Mullin on a team that scored a great deal. Richmond would win Rookie of the Year honors for the Dubs while Majerle finished 2nd.
Also on that Warriors team was 7'6 center Manute Bol - a fact that always warrants mentioning.
Game 1 was a complete assault as the Suns - the NBA's highest scoring team at 118.6 per game - won 130-103. The game wasn't even that close as the Suns held a 34 point lead after 3 quarters. Chambers led the Suns with 25 while Majerle scored 22 and held his Rookie of the Year competitor Richmond to just 12.
Chris Mullin helped the Warriors even the series in Game 2 when he scored 37 points to help Golden State rally past the Suns. Phoenix had held a 120-116 lead with 3:24 left but Nellie's angels closed on an 11-2 run to take the game.
The Suns grabbed the series lead back in Game 3 by a 113-104 margin despite shooting just 39% from the field. Chambers again led the Suns with 31 points and added 14 rebounds. KJ scored 20 points and added 15 assists and 9 rebounds but shot just 4/17 from the field. Jeff Hornacek hit just 2/12 shots and Eddie Johnson hit only 6 of his 20 attempts off the bench.
If you're wondering how the Suns won the game - Mark West had 18 points and the Suns had a 19 rebound advantage.
There was no similar drama in Game 4 as the Suns destroyed Golden State 135-99 behind 34 from Eddie Johnson. The sometimes infuriating Suns announcer hit 6 of his 8 three point attempts in the game. Those three pointers - just fool's gold, right EJ?
In the deciding Game 5, the Suns trailed by as many as 11 in the 2nd quarter but closed the gap to 1 in by half and had a 5 point lead going into the 4th. In that final period, Phoenix outscored Golden State by 7 and took the series 116-104. KJ, Chambers, and Majerle all had 24 points to co-lead the Suns while Tyrone Corbin added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Suns won this series but were swept by the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Dan Majerle dunks over Manute Bol. Here's an old video link which isn't very good. Almost criminal that this isn't on YouTube.
(11) 1984 - (2) Utah Jazz v. (6) Phoenix Suns
Result - Suns in 6
Phoenix was a regular top half of the Western Conference team from 1977 to 1983 with a variety of different lineups but couldn't get themselves over the top. So you can't blame Jerry Colangelo for thinking he needed to try something new to get them there. You can however blame him for what he tried.
That strange attempt manifested itself as dealing All-Star guard Dennis Johnson to Boston in exchange for backup center Rick Robey (a move I've probably shit on roughly 530 times on Bright Side of the Sun).
Beyond that move, the Suns had added Maurice Lucas in a Truck Robinson trade the season before while seeing Larry Nance become a vital piece and Walter Davis continue his All-Star play. They also brought back a 33 year-old Paul Westphal as a free agent in what would be his final NBA season.
Between not being very good and being hurt, Robey contributed very little and the Suns fell to 41 wins but still made the playoffs.
Utah had won the Midwest Division and become the number 2 seed with 45 wins. In their 10th season as a franchise this level of success brought Utah their first playoff berth and was a 15 win improvement over the previous year.
Jazz small forward and future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley was the NBA's leading scorer at 30.6 points per game. Frank Layden's Jazz also featured another 20 point per game scorer in guard Darrell Griffith (he of the greatest nickname ever - Dr. Dunkenstein), point guard Rickey Green, and extremely tall Mark Eaton.
Both Utah and Phoenix would go the full 5 games in their respective first round series.
After winning 4 of 5 regular season matchups, the Jazz had to be confident playing the Suns. That was probably reinforced when they held the Suns to 31% shooting and won Game 1 by a final of 105-95 behind 36 from Dantley.
The Suns introduced the Jazz to playoff losing in Game 2 as Suns coach John MacLeod switched bruising Maurice Lucas onto Dantley and he was held to 7/22 shooting. This along with 28 from Walter Davis contributed to the Suns evening the series.
Game 3 back in Phoenix was almost all Suns as they carried a 25 point lead into the 4th quarter and did not surrender it despite a late Utah rally. Davis again led the Suns in the 106-94 win with 30 points while Lucas chipped in 22 points and 14 rebounds.
It appeared as though the Jazz would win Game 4 when they had a 3 point lead with just 3 seconds left in regulation, but Walter Davis hit a three to tie the game and send it to overtime. In overtime the Jazz would take back a 5 point lead but 6 points from Davis and a pair of clutch free throws from Lucas put the Suns in front.
Utah still could have pulled the game out had Rickey Green converted an open layup he somehow blew as time expired.
Dantley scored an impressive 46 points in Game 5 to keep the Jazz alive but he scored just half that total in Game 6 as the Suns routed the Jazz for a 102-82 series clinching win.
Phoenix would go on to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Lakers in 6 games.
The Green missed layup that would have won Game 4 is probably it, but I loved this quote from a Utah executive about Maurice Lucas following Game 3:
"Somebody really needs to knock Lucas on his ass. Unfortunately, that's what he's doing to us."
(10) 1976 - (3) Seattle Supersonics v. (4) Phoenix Suns
Result - Suns in 6
Coming off their surprisingly competitive playoff series in 1970 the Suns were a hard luck team in both 1971 and 1972 as they missed the playoffs with 48 wins and 49 wins respectively. After dropping back to 38 wins in 1972-73, the Suns opted to rebuild what was a veteran roster.
The rebuild involved the October 1973 trade of the first franchise legend in Connie Hawkins and the hiring of future franchise coaching legend John MacLeod. Additional moves shipped Neal Walk, Corky Calhoun, and Clem Haskins out of town.
Walk brought Curtis Perry, Dennis Awtrey, and Nate Hawthorne but the biggest moves were dealing All-Star Charlie Scott to Boston in exchange for reserve guard Paul Westphal, and selecting Oklahoma center Alvan Adams 4th overall in the 1975 draft.
In all - only Dick Van Arsdale remained as someone who played on the Suns first two playoff teams.
With both Westphal and Adams exploding onto the scene, Curtis Perry as a large contributor, and Gar Heard as a February trade acquisition, the Suns rebounded to win 42 games and return to the playoffs.
Seattle had come into the NBA one year prior to the Suns and while they didn't enjoy the same type of early success - they did make their first NBA playoffs in 1975 and fell in the Western Conference Semifinals in 6 games to the eventual champion Warriors.
Although the team traded trouble making forward Spencer Haywood for effectively nothing in the 1975 offseason, they returned to the playoffs in 1976 with a second straight 43 win season. This was made possible by the continued scoring prowess of shooting guard Fred Brown and the emergence of second year point guard Slick Watts. Believe it or not, Seattle's head coach in this period was former Celtics legend Bill Russell.
Game 1 went to the Sonics on the strength of 20 second half points from Fred Brown. Seattle looked as though they would take a 2-0 lead in the series when they held a 6 point lead and less than 3 minutes to play but - despite 45 points from Brown - the Suns rallied and evened the series.
Upon the series returning the Phoenix the Suns used a balanced attack in Game 3 with 6 guys scoring between 12 and 16 points to take that game while Game 4 went to the Suns in a 130-114 rout. Westphal filled it up to the tune of 39 points in Game 4 to give the Suns a commanding 3-1 series lead.
A surprising 28 points from reserve Bruce Seals helped the Sonics stave off elimination in Game 5 but it wasn't enough. Back at Veterans Memorial, the Suns took a 20 point lead into the 4th quarter and despite their best efforts did not relinquish it as they won their first ever playoff series by a final of 123-112.
You may have heard the Suns would go on to upset the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and lose to the Celtics in the Finals. This series gets the bonus of being the Suns first second round series and it cracks the top 10.
With a chance to go up 2-0 on the Suns, Seattle held a 107-101 lead with 2:50 left to play - but the Suns ended the game on a 15-4 run and won.
(9) 1993 - (1) Phoenix Suns v. (5) San Antonio Spurs
Result - Suns in 6
Winning 53 or more games for 4 straight years and getting knocked out of the playoffs had become a bit of a blasé affair for the Phoenix Suns so they decided they needed to mix things up if they were going to put themselves in position to win a title. The opportunity to do just that arrived in the person of disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers superstar Charles Barkley.
Barkley came at the cost of Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang - a bargain under almost any circumstances - and the Suns had their stud. To replace Hornacek's long range production the Suns added perpetual antagonist Danny Ainge from Portland while plugging rookies Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas into the rotation.
Just to make sure everything had changed the team also moved into brand spanking new America West Arena, changed uniforms, and named Paul Westphal head coach after Cotton Fitzsimmons stepped down.
With the new pieces surrounding guys like KJ, Dan Majerle and Tom Chambers, the Suns rolled to a franchise record 62 wins and Barkley won the NBA MVP award.
San Antonio had an interesting year of their own, starting the season with former college coach Jerry Tarkanian as head coach but watching him last just 20 unimpressive games. After the 1 game Rex Hughes era, the Spurs hired John Lucas to steady the team.
David Robinson was still the San Antonio star and was in pure prime form scoring 23.4 points per game and pulling down 11.7 rebounds while blocking 3.2 shots. Sean Elliott was a worthy #2 option that year making his first All-Star in his 4th season.
Despite Charles Barkley shooting 5/21 from the field, the Suns were able to take Game 1 of the series 98-89. Kevin Johnson led the team with 25 points, 7 assists and 5 steals to help offset 32 from David Robinson.
Barkley returned to his MVP form to help the Suns grab a Game 2 win when he put up 35 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 steals in a 109-103 Suns win. Phoenix had to stave off a Spurs rally in the 4th quarter as San Antonio cut a 16 point lead down to 4 with 3 minutes remaining. Regardless - the Suns had held serve at home.
San Antonio was able to even the series in Games 3 and 4 with a pair of surprising double digit victories. The Spurs got a balanced scoring attack in Game 3 with Antoine Carr leading with 21 points and 5 other players in double figures, including Avery Johnson who added 15 assists. Game 4 was back to the Admiral show though as San Antonio outscored the Suns 65-47 in the 2nd half primarily spurred by Robinson's 36 points and 16 rebounds. Phoenix had no answer for Robinson in that game as he attempted 23 free throws - the most he tried in any game of his career except for the time he scored 71 points in the final game of the 1993-94 season to win a scoring title.
The Spurs suffered a tough blow in Game 4 of the series when veteran forward Antoine Carr - who'd averaged 13.5 points per game in the series - was lost for the series with a knee injury.
Entering the 4th quarter of Game 5 at America West Arena, the Spurs held a 5 point lead and looked as if they would be able to steal all the momentum in the series. Charles Barkley was having none of that.
The MVP led a furious 4th quarter charge in which he scored 19 points (of his 36) in that quarter alone to help lead the Suns to a 109-97 win and the series lead.
Game 6 returned to San Antonio and when the Spurs opened up an 86-76 lead at the beginning of the 4th quarter it looked like they would send the series back to Phoenix. What followed was a 12-0 Suns rally to give Phoenix the lead before leads were swapped repeatedly over the last several minutes.
With 11 seconds remaining, David Robinson hit two free throws to tie the score and 100 which set up Charles Barkley v. David Robinson.
Barkley had the basketball at the top of the key for basically the entire possession before starting his move, stopping and stroking a 20 foot jumper over the outstretched arms of Robinson to give the Suns a 102-100 lead.
Although 1.8 seconds remained on the clock, Oliver Miller was able to block David Robinson's awkward jump shot attempt and the Suns were on to the Western Conference Finals where they would defeat the Sonics. Barkley finished the game with 28 points and 21 rebounds.
Charles Barkley cares not for your Navy:
(8) 1981 - (1) Phoenix Suns v. (5) Kansas City Kings
Result - Kings in 7
Sensing the Suns were going to continue falling short with their Paul Westphal/Walter Davis combo, Jerry Colangelo made an exceedingly bold move (yes this is a theme) when he dealt Westphal to rival Seattle in exchange for 26 year old two-time All-Star point guard Dennis Johnson.
With DJ in tow, the Suns traded former starting point guard Don Buse and handed the backup point guard duties to 1st round pick Kyle Macy. They would also have to replace the bench scoring of guard Mike Bratz who was picked up by the Mavericks in the 1980 expansion draft.
The mild makeover was enough to make the Suns a force to be reckoned with, as the team won 57 games and was the 1st seed in the NBA's Western Conference. Johnson, Davis, and Truck Robinson were all named All-Stars.
Cotton Fitzsimmons was in his 3rd year as the head coach of Kansas City but after seasons of winning 48 and 47 games, the Kings dropped to 40 wins and just snuck into the playoffs.
The primary players for Kansas City remained All-Star Otis Birdsong, point guard Phil Ford, and forward Scott Wedman. Further weakening the Kings cause was that Ford suffered an eye injury in the season finale and would miss the first two rounds of the playoffs.
While Phoenix had a bye through the first round, the Kings managed to upset the 4th seeded Blazers to set up a series which was expected to be a walkover for the Suns.
Walkover potential was confirmed in Game 1 when the Suns used a 24-12 3rd quarter and blew out Kansas City by 22 points. The tide turned at that point.
In Game 2, the Kings used a tough defensive effort to pull out a 88-83 win in which they held everyone except Dennis Johnson under double digits. When Walter Davis scores 8 points you're not going to win a lot of games. Kansas City won the game despite Birdsong joining Ford on the sidelines with an injury.
As the series returned to Kansas City it looked like the Suns were righting the ship as they carried a 9 point lead into halftime. The high-scoring Birdsong remained out for the Kings but second year forward Reggie King picked up the slack with 29 and the Kings were able to rally to a win. This game featured 5 lead changes in the last 45 seconds including the deciding basket by Wedman.
Kansas City controlled the majority of Game 4 and led by 11 with under 6 minutes to go. The Suns were able to trim the lead to 3 with less than a minute left but were unable to get any closer. Current Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld led the charge for Kansas City with 27 and the Suns were a loss away from going down.
A good version of the Suns showed up for Game 5 at Veterans Memorial and the Kings series lead was trimmed to 3-2. The series was evened two days later in Kansas City when the Suns used staunch defense and clutch free throws with 33 seconds left by Alvan Adams to seal a 81-76 win.
Headed back to Phoenix - where the Suns were 36-5 during the regular season - with a chance to win the series had to have the Suns feeling like they would survive the Kansas City upset attempt. Based on this quote from Cotton Fitzsimmons when he recalled this series for Suns.com in 2001 ownership was even more confident:
"So now it's Easter Sunday and we come back to Phoenix for Game 7. And one thing I'll always remember is Donald Pitt, one of the owners of the Suns back then, was coming back on the flight with us. And he says, 'Cotton, I want you to know you did a great job in the series and you have nothing to be ashamed of.' And that sounded like they already had Game 7 won. But I said to him, 'I wouldn't say we're out of it by any means.'
Birdsong returned to the Kings lineup for Game 7 but was far from the story. King and Grunfeld scored 23 points apiece for Kansas City and the Kings rode a 24-12 third quarter to take a 95-88 win.
After trailing 48-45 in the first minute of the 3rd quarter, the Kings went on a 17-4 run and took a lead they would never give back.
Kansas City went on to be dropped by a 40-win Rockets team in the Western Conference Finals. Just to further sink the knife in - the Suns were 4-1 against the mediocre Rockets during the regular season.
So capped potentially the largest playoff failure in Phoenix Suns history.
Not a moment per se but Reggie King averaged 22.1 points per game in the 7 game series. Considering he was a 10 point a game scorer in an unremarkable 6 season career and the Kings were without Birdsong/Ford, it's impossible to say the 23 year old wasn't the difference in the series.
(7) 2010 - (3) Phoenix Suns v. (7) San Antonio Spurs
Result - Suns in 4
After missing the playoffs in 2009, many expected that when the Suns traded Shaquille O'Neal for cap relief they were beginning the long, arduous process of rebuilding. They did still have Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson though - which is pretty solid.
They managed to open the season with a 14-3 month of November but after losing an overtime game to the Bobcats on January 26th the Suns saw their record fall to 26-21.
But to the delight of anyone reading this, Stoudemire started playing
for his contract out of his mind and the Suns closed the season on a 28-7 run to grab the 3rd seed in the West.
As for the Spurs it looked like - at long last - their dynasty was ending (seriously, this was a thing a lot of people thought). During the 2008-2009 season they won 54 games and were knocked out by Dallas in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs. They followed that up with 50 wins during this season - their lowest total of the Tim Duncan era - and slipped all the way down to 7th in the West.
Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker remained the core 3 players of the Spurs while the rest of the supporting cast wasn't exactly superb. George Hill played point guard while Richard Jefferson was a starter and DeJuan Blair was typically the first big man off the bench.
Surprisingly, the Spurs upset the very same Dallas team they'd lost to in the previous playoffs to set up a date with the Suns.
San Antonio opened Game 1 with a familiar strategy - take away everything but Steve Nash. In the 1st quarter, Nash took what the Spurs gave him and scored 17 points to give the Suns a 9 point lead.
Phoenix carried a 10 point lead into half time before the Spurs did Spurs stuff and erased it. The Suns rebuilt that lead and even added to it - taking a 94-80 lead with just 7:33 left in the game before the Spurs again rallied with a 13-0 to slice the lead to 1.
A balanced scoring finish - highlighted by a back breaking Jason Richardson three pointer with 1:23 to go to give the Suns an 8 points lead - helped the Suns pull out a 111-102 Game 1 win.
You may better remember Game 2 as the "Los Suns" game when the Suns broke out their Latino Night uniforms as a bit of a semi-quiet protest to SB 1070.
The Spurs led this game by 9 at the end of the first quarter but the Phoenix bench mob changed the energy in the 2nd quarter and by halftime the game was tied. The contest remained tight until late when the Suns pulled away for a 110-102 win. Channing Frye hit 5 of his 6 three point attempts in the game which was vital to combat the Spurs over 50% shooting.
Game 3 was Goran Dragic. Sure the Suns were down 18 in the 2nd quarter but they took that lead down to 6 by halftime. The Spurs lead was at 3 when Dragic entered the game with 2:02 left in the 3rd quarter and promptly ended it.
The Dragon hit a 3 towards the end of the third quarter to draw the Suns within 1 point but during a legendary 4th quarter he exploded for 23 more to help the Suns dominate the Spurs and take a 3-0 series lead.
I honestly can't ever remember being more surprised by a Phoenix Suns player's individual performance in a game.
Given a chance to sweep the series in Game 4, the Suns took a 64-57 third quarter lead before Steve Nash was popped in the eye by an errant Tim Duncan elbow and had to go to the locker room. With Nash out the Spurs trimmed the lead to 1 going into the 4th quarter.
The two-time MVP returned to the game in the 4th quarter and although he could barely see out of his right eye, he took over the game. Nash scored 10 of his 20 points in the 4th quarter as the Suns were able to seal the win and the series in a sweep. Jared Dudley added 16 points on 6/7 shooting off the bench.
As we all know - the Suns would fall to the Lakers in 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. Yes this is 7th basically because the Suns beat the Spurs.
With all due respect to Pirate Steve Nash - it's current star Goran Dragic announcing his presence with authority in the Game 3:
(6) 1994 - (2) Houston Rockets v. (3) Phoenix Suns
Result - Rockets in 7
After coming within a missed John Paxson three pointer of getting a Game 7 at home in the NBA Finals, the Suns weren't in desperate need of much roster churning to be a contender. That notwithstanding they added the championship pedigree of AC Green and the gingery pedigree of Joe Kleine to help combat the large front courts each contending NBA team seemed to have in the post Michael Jordan era.
While Green and Kleine were added, Tom Chambers and Richard Dumas were subtracted. Chambers left in free agency while Dumas quite literally could not keep his nose clean. Months after signing a contract extension, Dumas was suspended indefinitely for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy.
Even though Dumas was gone and both Barkley/KJ missed 15 games or more, the Suns won 56 games and a top 3 seed in the West.
Houston on the other hand had Hakeem Olajuwon at the absolute apex of his powers to go with a cast of pretty good role players in Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, and Mario Elie. 1993-94 was the second season for Rudy Tomjanovich as head coach and after winning 55 games in Year 1 - they won 58 and grabbed the 2nd seed in the West in Year 2.
The real story of the Rockets was Olajuwon. The Dream was named league MVP for the first and only time in his career while also winning Defensive Player of the Year. This is the guy who was about to be opposed by Oliver Miller and Joe Kleine.
When the series opened in Houston - a place the Suns were 1-3 at in the Barkley era - Phoenix could not possibly have expected things to go as well as they did.
In Game 1 the Suns trailed by 5 entering the 4th quarter but in a sign of things to come, rallied with a 30-21 quarter to gain a road upset and a 1-0 series lead. Barkley led the Suns with 21 points and although Olajuwon was his typical dominant self (36 points on 16/24 shooting with 16 rebounds), nearly every other Rocket was held in check.
It appeared the Rockets would even the series in Game 2 when they held a convincing 104-84 lead with 10 minutes left in that game. Then the Suns finished the quarter on a blistering 24-4 run that saw Houston hit just one shot and the game headed to overtime.
In the overtime period, the Suns sprinted out to a 9 point lead and although future villain Robert Horry kept things close with a late 3 - the Suns were able to hold on for the win and a shocking 2-0 series lead as the series turned to Phoenix.
Coming back to Phoenix with a 2-0 series lead, in a building where your team has won 13 straight games seems like a pretty good thing, huh? Well the Rockets didn't care.
Despite the Suns opening up a 14 point 1st quarter lead, Houston rallied and Vernon Maxwell helped torch the Suns in Game 3 with 34 points while Olajuwon went for 26/15 with 6 blocks and 6 assists and the determined Rockets took their first game of the series 118-102. The performance offset a 38 point, 12 assist gem from Kevin Johnson.
Olajuwon took the reins back in Game 4 as he led Houston with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in a 107-96 Rockets win. Houston led most of the game but the Suns were able to draw within 3 in the late stages before Otis Thorpe went on a person 5-0 run to ensure the Suns wouldn't get any closer. Kenny Smith scored 17 of his 21 points in the 2nd half to help the Rockets hold on. KJ again put up 38 to lead the Suns.
In the weirdest fashion possible, the series was now even.
Game 5 was a 109-86 Rockets domination where despite getting 30 from Barkley the Suns got very little from anyone else. Dan Majerle for example missed all of his 6 shot attempts while whatever a Skeeter Henry is played 14 minutes. You may remember Skeeter Henry from my Barely ORNG post from 4 years ago which tells you what you need to know.
Phoenix was finally able to get a home win in Game 6 as they held Olajuwon to 23 points on 21 shots on their way to a 103-89 win. KJ led the Suns with 28 points and 13 assists while AC Green added 22 points on just 10 attempts and Joe Kleine scored 15 points (not surprisingly a playoff career high).
The story of the deciding Game 7 of the series was just the MVP imposing his will. Houston led 80-76 going into the 4th quarter when Olajuwon really turned it on. In the final period, The Dream scored 13 of his 37 points and pulled down 6 of his 17 rebounds to guide the Rockets to a 104-94 series clinching win.
For the 7 game series, Dan Majerle shot an abysmal 29.9% from the field.
Houston would go on to beat the Jazz in the Conference Finals before beating the Knicks for the championship.
Well the dunk was good enough for the Suns to celebrate its anniversary so we'll go with KJ over the Dream in Game 4:
(5) 2006 - (2) Phoenix Suns v. (6) Los Angeles Clippers
Result - Suns in 7
Although Joe Johnson had been dealt to Atlanta in the previous offseason, expectations for the 2nd season of Seven Seconds or Less were sky-high right up until the point where Amar'e Stoudemire was lost to microfracture surgery. With their young star forward down, not a lot of people knew what to expect from the Suns.
What they got was another MVP season from Steve Nash, perhaps the best season of Shawn Marion's All-Star career, and a Most Improved Player award from surprising Boris Diaw.
Phoenix added the final piece of the puzzle in March when they picked up Tim Thomas off of waivers.
While they didn't win as many games as the year before, the Suns still won 54 games and held the second seed in the West.
Their opponent in the 2nd round of the playoffs that year would be the Los Angeles Clippers. After missing the playoffs for 8 consecutive years, the Clippers built a playoff contender on the back of All-Star power forward Elton Brand, veteran point guard Sam Cassell, swingman Cuttino Mobley, and 3rd year center Chris Kaman.
They also had pre-knee explosion Shawn Livingston who was in his 2nd season. Don't go Google Shawn Livingston's knee injury.
Los Angeles dispatched Carmelo Anthony and his Nuggets in 5 quick games in the 1st round to give them their first series win since moving to California.
Since the Suns were coming off a 7 game battle with the Lakers and the Clippers were well rested this wasn't expected to be a blood bath - and it wasn't.
Steve Nash accepted his MVP award on the court before Game 1 and then proceeded to play like an MVP in a 31 point, 12 assist performance. The Clippers led the game at halftime but the Suns scored 74 points in the 2nd half to take the game.
The Clippers used their enormous size advantage to outrebound the Suns 57-26 in Game 2 as they cruised to a 122-97 win over the smaller Suns. Elton Brand had 27 points while Mobley and Cassell chipped in 23.
Apparently Shawn Marion took the rebounding failures of Game 2 personally because in Game 3 he grabbed 19 of them himself while scoring 32 points to help the Suns to a huge road win. Marion and Tim Thomas accounted for 33 of the Suns 46 rebounds in the game.
The 36 year-old Cassell managed to be the major story of Game 4 as he nearly had a triple-double (28 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists) and hit two huge late threes to ensure the win. LA got 30 from Elton Brand and managed to win the game despite Chris Kaman sitting due to injury.
Phoenix looked to be well on their way to a 3-2 series advantage when they led the Clippers by 19 in the 3rd quarter but Mike D'Antoni's teams absolutely loved blowing big leads. Cassell closed the Suns lead to 2 with a 3 pointer at the 7:28 mark of the 4th and was able to tie the game with another three at the 39 second mark to send the game to overtime.
In overtime - the Clippers held a 3 point lead with just three seconds left before Raja Bell hit a clutch corner three in front of the Los Angeles bench to tie the game.
Leandro Barbosa hit a huge three at 1:37 of the 2nd overtime to give the Suns a 2 possession lead in a game then Suns would wind up winning 125-118.
As 61.5% shooting performance in Game 6 basically made sure that one wouldn't be competitive as the Clippers forced a Game 7 with a 118-106 win.
Thus ended the competitive portion of the series.
In a delightfully uncompetitive Game 7, the Suns took a 8 point halftime lead and extended it to 15 by the end of the third quarter and wouldn't look back. Only 7 Suns played in the game - a D'Antoni specialty - but each of them scored in double figures, led by Marion's 30 all the way down to 10 from James Jones.
Unfortunately the Suns season would end with a loss to the Mavericks in 6 games in the Conference Finals.
Raja Bell sinks a three from the corner with Daniel Ewing basically inside of him to send Game 5 to double overtime
(4) 2005 - (1) Phoenix Suns v. (4) Dallas Mavericks
Result - Suns in 6
The Phoenix Suns of 2003-2004 were by no means a good basketball team. That much was relatively clear when they won 29 games and fired head coach Frank Johnson in the early part of the season. What they did have was a bunch of pretty good parts.
Shawn Marion was already an All-Star, Amar'e Stoudemire was an athletic dynamo, and Joe Johnson was coming into his own as a scorer. But they needed something to put it all together.
The missing ingredient turned out to be Steve Nash. Running Mike D'Antoni's high powered offense (D'Antoni had been Frank Johnson's interim replacement the season before), Nash helped lead the Phoenix pups to 62 wins - a drastic increase from 29 the season before.
The team that let Nash head to Phoenix in the first place was the Suns second round opponent - the Dallas Mavericks.
Since combining superstar Dirk Nowitzki, Nash, and former Suns swingman Michael Finley, the Mavs had won no less than 52 games a year for 4 straight years. But when Nash came up for free agency in the 2004 offseason, owner Mark Cuban did not think the 30 year old with back problems was worth the 5 year, $65 million dollar deal the Suns were willing to pay him.
Even without Nash, Dallas was still able to win 58 games by retooling the roster to add high scoring guard Jason Terry, center Erick Dampier, and both Keith Van Horn and Darrell Armstrong in midseason trades.
Dallas also survived the late season resignation of head coach Don Nelson - replacing him with Avery Johnson and peeling off a 16-2 run to finish the season. They then rallied from a 2-0 hole against Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and the Rockets to win their 1st round series.
Steve Nash against his old team. Steve Nash against his best friend. This series was not short on narrative.
In Game 1, the Suns shook off the rust from 8 days off and blasted Dallas 127-102 behind 40 points and 16 rebounds from Amar'e Stoudemire. No matter who the Mavericks threw at Stoudemire, he destroyed them and the Suns had the first game in a laugher.
The Mavericks were able to steal Game 2 when Dirk Nowtizki stroked a 12 foot jump shot with 6.8 seconds to play to give Dallas the lead. Quentin Richardson had an opportunity to win the game with a three pointer but the shot went long as time expired. Michael Finley had 31 to lead Dallas while Amar'e put up 30 more in this game to lead the Suns.
Perhaps the biggest story for Phoenix in Game 2 was the loss of Joe Johnson who was drilled by Jerry Stackhouse in the waning moments of the 1st half, fell, and broke his face (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5F75fvHshM). Johnson - the Suns 3rd leading scorer - would not return in the series.
Phoenix returned to its blowout ways when they beat Dallas 119-102 in Game 3 as Amar'e went nuts again for 37 points and 14 rebounds. The Mavs made just 1 of their 18 three point attempts in the loss.
Dallas modified their game plan for the 4th game - shifting their attention to Stoudemire while letting Nash get whatever he wanted scoring wise. The strategy was effective.
Although Nash scored 48 points on 20/28 shooting his teammates would combine for just 22 made baskets and Dallas won 119-109. Josh Howard (remember how he was good?) led the Mavs with 29 points.
When the series headed back to Phoenix, the Suns got the best of both worlds with Nash. The recently named NBA MVP posted a triple-double with 34 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists to help the Suns rally in the 4th quarter and take a 3-2 series lead. The game is one of only 4 triple doubles for Nash in his illustrious career and the only one either in the playoffs or in a game where he scored more than 16 points.
Jim Jackson was a huge contributor for the Suns in Game 5 as he scored 21 points to ably replace Joe Johnson.
Game 6 back in Dallas was even more Steve Nash domination. The Mavericks led the game by 16 with 3:53 remaining in the 3rd quarter but a 22-6 run over the next 6 minutes drew the Suns even. Man could that team score in bunches.
The two high scoring teams swapped leads a few times but with 1:39 to play Dallas held a 105-101 lead. After a Steven Hunter lay-in (had to work in Hunter here somewhere), Nash hit a three to give the Suns a lead. Josh Howard took it back on a layup of his own and following a missed Suns jumper and a Jim Jackson foul, Dallas was back up 3 points.
Nash made a quick two to cut the lead back to 1 but a couple Stackhouse free throws set the to 3. The MVP then hit a three with 5 seconds remaining to tie it and send the game to overtime. In OT, the Suns jumped out to a 119-114 lead and did not give it back in a 130-126 thriller. Shawn Marion had 11 points (out of his 38) in the overtime alone.
Phoenix would go on to drop the Conference Finals to the Spurs in 5 games.
I could have gone with the Game 4 career high but let's show you all of Nash's amazing performance in the series clincher instead:
(3) 1990 - (1) Los Angeles Lakers v. (5) Phoenix Suns
Result - Suns in 5
The Suns roster was almost entirely set from the previous season as Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Jeff Hornacek, Mark West, and Dan Majerle were the heart of the roster. The only real changes they made from 1989 were trading Armen Gilliam to Charlotte in a trade that brought former Lakers annoyance Kurt Rambis and losing starting forward Tyrone Corbin to the T'Wolves in the expansion draft.
Chambers and KJ were both All-Stars for the Suns and the Suns won 54 games - just one fewer than the season before. In the deep West, 54 wins got you the 5th seed.
In the top seed of the conference sat the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were playing their first season without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but with Magic winning the MVP for the second consecutive season and James Worthy, AC Green, and Byron Scott still as fantastic running mates - the team was able to rip off 63 wins.
The lesson as always is Pat Riley can coach and Magic Johnson was awesome provided he wasn't hosting a talk show.
It began at
the Suns House of Horrors The Great Western Forum when the Suns trailed 90-82 with eight minutes left in the game but were able to rally to steal Game 1. The win ended a staggering 21 game losing streak for the Suns on the Lakers home floor.
Mark West certainly enjoyed the absence of Abdul-Jabbar as he went for 24 points in the Game 1 win - which would be the 2nd highest total of his long career.
When the Lakers blew out the Suns 124-100 in Game 2 it appeared to most that the Game 1 surprise was just a mild slip up for a team that hadn't missed the Finals since 1986.
The third quarter was the story of the Suns 117-103 Game 3 win as they outscored the Lakers 37-25 in that period. Tom Chambers scored 34 to lead the Suns while Jeff Hornacek added 29.
Game 4 also went to the Suns by double digits as Phoenix took a 3-1 series lead on the back of a 114-101 win despite 43 points from Magic Johnson. KJ scored 30 and had 16 assists for the Suns while Mark West had another strong effort with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Odds are the Lakers weren't too concerned that the Suns would be able to win at the Forum again, but that's what happened in Game 5.
Los Angeles had jumped out to a commanding 15 point lead after one quarter but after chipping away the Suns entered the 4th quarter trailing by only 3.
With 3:55 remaining in the game the Lakers held a 95-90 lead and with Magic Johnson sitting at 43 points, seemed poised to send the series back to Phoenix. What followed was a 12-2 Suns run engineered by the KJ/Hornacek backcourt that put the Suns up 102-97 with 44 seconds left.
The Lakers got a three from Byron Scott to close the gap to 2 and after a missed jumper from Hornacek had a chance to tie or take the lead with less than 15 seconds remaining. The MVP missed a running left hander in the lane, Hornacek grabbed the rebound, and the Suns had a 4 point lead.
Since the Lakers refuse to ever go away easy, Byron Scott hit another three with 3 seconds left and following a pair of free throws had a chance to tie. Michael Cooper then threw the ball directly out of bounds from half court and the Suns had their series.
Portland would end the Suns fun in 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. Though it was a 5 game series - this one comes in high because there was no greater monkey on the back of the Suns franchise than the Los Angeles Lakers.
The late 12-2 run in Game 5 to give the Suns a lead they wouldn't give up. Pure KJ and Hornacek here.
(2) 2007 - (2) Phoenix Suns v. (3) San Antonio Spurs
Result - Spurs in 6
Considering the 2005-2006 Suns were able to make the Western Conference Finals without Amar'e Stoudemire in the lineup - the expectations were that when he returned the team could finally capture that elusive NBA championship.
Stoudemire re-joined a roster of Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, and an emerging Boris Diaw to form easily one of the best teams in the NBA. They did start slow while trying to bring STAT off the bench (1-5 in their first 6) but once they got rolling they hit 61 wins and the 2nd seed in the West.
Across the aisle in round 2 was the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio had won 3 titles in the last 7 years and was coming into 2006-2007 with that same core you love to hate. Tim Duncan was still a star while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were right there with him. What made the Spurs particularly dangerous (outside of those three awesome guys) was an array of role players who seemed to live to annoy. Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Michael Finley, Brent Barry, Fabricio Oberto all wore that label proudly.
Although the regular season wasn't quite as irrelevant to Gregg Popovich in 2006-2007 as it is today, regular season minute trimming for his stars was in full effect for the 58 win Spurs.
Following Golden State's shocking upset win over a 67-win Dallas team in the 1st round of the playoffs, many onlookers viewed this 2nd round series as the defacto NBA championship. Offense intended, Jazz, Cavs, Warriors, Pistons, Bulls, and Nets.
Game 1 is probably best known for Steve Nash's bloody nose (seriously that dude bled a lot). San Antonio held a 2 point lead with 54 seconds remaining in the game and the Suns with the ball when Nash had to be pulled with a geyser of blood effectively shooting from his face. The cut that would require 6 stitches left Nash out of the game for the next 45 seconds in which the Suns missed 5 shots - leaving the Suns down 4 and the outcome decided.
Since Tim Duncan had predictably torched the Suns in Game 1, Mike D'Antoni shifted Kurt Thomas into the starting lineup for Game 2 and the result was a much better defensive effort and a 101-81 Suns win. Amar'e Stoudemire led the Suns with 27 points - including 21 in the 2nd half.
The Spurs were able to hold the Suns at bay for most of the second half of Game 3, allowing the Suns to come no closer than 6 during a 4th quarter where Tim Duncan scored 13 of San Antonio's 28 points. Nash shot just 6/17 in the loss.
Then there's Game 4 -and curse you Game 4. I could get into a whole thing about how the Suns erased an 11 point Spurs 4th quarter lead with a 32-15 run to close the game and tie the series, but the only thing people are going to remember is Robert Horry.
With the Suns up 3 and 18 seconds left, Horry hipchecked Steve Nash into the boards, committing a flagrant foul that saw him ejected from the game. The unfortunate part is that Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw - who were both on the bench at the time (in case you're curious the Suns lineup at the moment was Nash, Bell, Barbosa, Marion, Thomas) - came off the bench several feet.
Though the Suns won Game 4 104-98 - both Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for Game 5.
Extremely short handed and with D'Antoni unwilling to expand the rotation, the Suns basically played Game 5 with 6 guys (Pat Burke played 3 minutes but I'm not counting it). Even with this challenge the Suns were able to hold an 11 point lead at halftime - and were still hanging on to that 11 point lead with 10:23 remaining in the 4th quarter.
San Antonio rallied - because that's what they do - but the Suns were able to rebuild an 8 point lead with 5:18 to go. Then everything basically unraveled.
Before a garbage time layup by Raja Bell with 1 second left and the game already in hand - the Spurs closed the game on a 17-4 run that saw Phoenix shoot 2/12 with three turnovers. In that period Steve Nash shot 0/5 from the field.
Call it exhaustion if you will - but I still think they should have won.
Back at full strength for Game 6 in San Antonio, the Suns dug themselves a nice 20 point deficit with 8:37 left in the 4th quarter. Phoenix did rally to close the lead to 7, 6, and 5 on different occasions, but never got the ball with a chance to make it a 1 score game.
C'est la vie.
San Antonio rolled over the Jazz in 5 before sweeping an overmatched LeBron James in the Finals.
Like it or not, the absolute defining moment of the series happened in the late stages of Game 4 when Robert Horry did this:
(1) 1995 - (2) Phoenix Suns v. (6) Houston Rockets
Result - Rockets in 7
I've said it before and I'll say it again - the 1994-95 Suns were perhaps the greatest collection of talent I've seen the Suns put together. Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and Dan Majerle were still playing All-Star level basketball while AC Green and Danny Ainge were excellent contributors.
But in the 1994 offseason they pushed the talent to the next level when they signed Kings star Wayman Tisdale and All-Star Danny Manning.
Manning so badly wanted to be a Sun that he'd announced to pretty much anyone who'd listen that he'd sign in Phoenix for whatever money the Suns could make available for him. That amounted to a 1 year, $1 million dollar deal.
Everything seemed to be going to plan as the Suns were 36-9 prior to Danny Manning tearing his ACL in February. Without Manning the Suns were still able to finish the season with 59 wins and the second seed in the conference.
Awaiting the Suns in round 2 were the same Houston Rockets who had beaten them the year before.
Now when I say same I don't mean exactly the same.
Call it a championship hangover or whatever you like, but the Rockets won just 47 games in 1994-95 which was only good enough for the 6th seed in the West. The easy assumption was that they struggled in the early part of the season but when they dealt Otis Thorpe to Portland for Clyde Drexler they really turned it on - in fact the opposite was true.
In Houston's final game before Clyde Drexler arrived they beat the Clippers to push their record to 30-17. In 35 games with Drexler, the Rockets went just 17-18 and slipped down the Western totem pole.
They were able to turn it on just in time in the playoffs, upsetting 3rd seeded Utah in a road Game 5 to set up a rematch with the Suns.
Unlike 1994, the Suns did not let their first two home games go to waste. In Game 1, Phoenix got huge performances out of Charles Barkley (26/11), Kevin Johnson (25/13), and AC Green (25/15) to lead them to a 130-108 blowout.
Game 2 was much of the same as the Suns build a 21 point halftime lead and easily took a 2-0 series lead. Barkley led the Suns with 30 while KJ added 29 points and 12 assists.
Up 2-0 again, certainly nothing could go wrong!
Houston returned the blowout favor in Game 3 with a 118-85 throttling of the Suns that saw Hakeem Olajuwon dominate for 36 points on 16/27 shooting while Drexler added 23 of his own. On the Suns side, Charles Barkley had perhaps the worst game of his NBA career as he scored just 5 points on 0/10 shooting from the field.
In nearly 1200 career games (playoff and regular season), Barkley failed to make a field goal just 6 times and this performance was the most attempts he'd ever gone without a made shot.
Sir Charles returned to the land of the living in Game 4 with 26 points but the real story of the game was Kevin Johnson who threw up 43 points on 18/24 shooting to go with 9 assists and 6 rebounds. (Full highlights are available here). KJ's performance helped the Suns rally from a 15 point 3rd quarter deficit and pull out a late win.
So now it was 3-1 and AC Green of all people was asked whether the Suns could lose three in a row. His response?
"It won't happen," Green said. "That's how I look at it."
Clyde Drexler was suffering from the stomach flu and was entirely ineffective in Game 5 (4 points on 0/6 in 32 minutes) and the Rockets as a team shot just 38.4% from the field but they were able to hang tough and take the Suns to overtime. Wesley Person had a three point try at the end of the regulation to get the win but it rimmed out.
In overtime the Rockets held the Suns to just 5 points and they remained alive with a huge win in Phoenix. Charles Barkley had 17 points and 20 rebounds in the Game 5 loss but posted just 3 points in the 2nd half plus overtime.
Back in Houston, the Rockets used a 18-5 run in the late 3rd / early 4th quarter to take a lead they would retain in a 116-103 win. Olajuwon scored 30 to lead Houston.
This set up a Game 7 - this time in Phoenix.
The Suns led the game 51-41 at halftime and 68-59 in the middle of the third quarter and looked like they would be able to control the game. What followed was a 22-11 Rockets run led by Clyde Drexler which gave Houston a 81-79 lead headed into the 4th.
During the 4th quarter, Olajuwon scored 16 of his 29 points while decimating the always not intimidating duo of Joe Kleine and Danny Schayes but the teams stayed close to each other.
Houston took the lead on Kenny Smith free throws with 45 seconds left but KJ was fouled on the next trip down to give the Suns a shot at the lead. KJ managed to miss the 2nd attempt - his first miss in 22 attempts on the day - and the game was tied.
On Houston's final possession, Kenny Smith was trapped in the backcourt so he dished the ball to Robert Horry who threw a cross court pass to Mario Elie from the corner near Houston's bench. Elie hit the shot, blew a kiss, some free throws were exchanged, and the Suns blew a 3-1 series lead - squandering a fabulous 46 point game from Kevin Johnson.
The Rockets would win their second straight title a few weeks later.
I'm sorry. Don't watch.