Danny Ainge told Suns teammates ‘no 3s!’ before leaving Paxson open
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Of all the painful moments in Arizona sports history, John Paxson’s shot that wound up clinching the 1993 NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls over the Phoenix Suns is on the Mount Rushmore.
The man who left him open in Game 6 with his team up two and 14.1 seconds left was Danny Ainge. Despite never going back and watching it again, he was able to recite the play fairly well on ESPN’s The Lowe Post.
“I remember that we took a chance, went for a steal, and there was penetration by Scottie (Pippen). Scottie penetrated in, and I had Paxson,” Ainge recalled. “And coming out of the timeout, I’m yelling at my team in the team huddle, “No threes! No threes!” I must have said it 10 times.”
Now, Ainge is the guy who left Paxson and is remembered most as the one to blame.
But as you’ll see watching the play back, it’s not just Ainge.
The defensive breakdown begins with the great Charles Barkley, who Ainge looking back said went for a steal.
With Michael Jordan bringing the ball up the court with speed, though, it looks like Barkley is ready for Pippen to set a screen and make sure he cuts off Jordan’s lane to the basket. At least that’s how this one individual sees it.
Either way, it’s a goof, and it’s also a beautiful play design by Phil Jackson, as Barkley bites and Pippen doesn’t hesitate for a millisecond to rip through with the ball and attack the basket.
As defensive rotations go, Ainge now has to worry about Horace Grant having a free dunk, because everyone in the building knows that’s the pass Pippen will make.
Grant gets the pass, and Ainge is there, leaving Paxson.
“Scottie drives straight to the basket and hits Horace,” Ainge said. “And when he threw it to Horace, I never imagined that Horace was going to hot potato the ball out to Pax.”
That’s where one of the most overlooked passes in Finals history occurs. In an example of having poise in championship moments, just like Pippen displayed two seconds earlier, Grant immediately makes the right play and kicks it out to an open Paxson.
“I thought Horace was going to go up for a dunk, I thought maybe I could get it from behind or foul him hard but he got rid of that ball so quick, and I was just stuck in the middle of it,” Ainge said. “And there I left John Paxson open.”
Ainge knew what was next as the clock got down to under five seconds left with the ball in the air.
“I mean I’ve played against Pax my whole career and one thing I know about Pax is I did not think that shot was going to miss,” Ainge said.
And there’s plenty more tied into the crunch-time moments besides Paxson’s shot. Frank Johnson’s wide-open miss up four with under a minute left, Jordan going coast-to-coast off the miss and Dan Majerle’s open miss on the baseline leading by two with 15 seconds remaining.
It shouldn’t have even gotten to Paxson’s shot, nor Kevin Johnson’s inability to get a shot off down one as time expired.
And that is all the more why that defeat stings beyond just Paxson’s shot and Ainge’s mistake.
“That was a very painful loss,” Ainge said.