What used to be an annual rite has turned into a distant memory for Phoenix Suns fans.
It’s been six years since the boys in purple and orange have participated in the NBA’s postseason tournament. Until that trend reverses, the Phoenix faithful will have to rely on the past.
For this edition of The 5, we’ll do just that and take a look at the five biggest shots in Phoenix Suns’ playoff history.
5. Raja Bell’s corner three vs. Clippers (2006)
The Suns found themselves tied with the upstart Clippers 2-2 in a pivotal Game 5 in the Western Conference semifinals. With just 3.6 seconds remaining in overtime, Los Angeles led 111-108. After a timeout, the Suns would inbound the ball with Boris Diaw doing the honors. Raja Bell rubbed off of defender Daniel Ewing (who played only 21 seconds in the entire game), caught the ball in the left corner and launched a three-pointer that swished through the net with 1.1 seconds left, sending the game to a second overtime.
The Suns went on to outscore the Clippers 14-7 in overtime to win 125-118 and take a 3-2 series lead. The Clippers won Game 6 two days later, but the Suns would take the deciding Game 7 at US Airways Center to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals with a 127-107 victory.
4. Rex Chapman’s buzzer beater vs. Seattle (1997)
The Suns lost their first 13 games of the 1996-97 season, but recovered in time to post a 40-42 record and grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Not many gave Phoenix a chance against the top-seeded Seattle Supersonics, who won 57 games under head coach George Karl.
The Suns didn’t listen. They jumped out to a 2-1 series lead in a best-of-5 first-round matchup and had the opportunity to complete the upset in Game 4 at America West Arena.
Phoenix trailed 107-104 with 4.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter. After a timeout, Jason Kidd inbounded the ball from the left sideline and looped a pass cross-court to a cutting Rex Chapman. The former Kentucky guard caught the ball and launched an off-balance three-pointer over defender Hersey Hawkins while he was falling out of bounds, hitting nothing but net and sending the game to overtime. It was the continuation of a great playoff series for Chapman, who torched the Sonics for 42 points, including nine three-pointers in a Game 1 win.
Chapman’s heroics weren’t enough, though.
Seattle outscored the Suns 15-8 to win the game and tie the series 2-2. They went on to crush Phoenix in Game 5 116-92 to take the series in five games.
3. Gar Heard’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” (1976)
The Phoenix Suns’ presence in the 1976 NBA Finals against the mighty Boston Celtics really didn’t make much sense. Under head coach John MacLeod, Phoenix had a 42-40 record — the second-worst of any team that qualified for the playoffs. In the conference semifinals, they shocked Seattle in six games to move to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Somehow, Phoenix knocked off the defending champion Golden State Warriors in seven games to punch a ticket to the Finals.
Boston won the first two games of the series at the Garden. The Suns held homecourt, winning Games 3 and 4 at the “Madhouse on McDowell”. Game 5 in Boston was shaping up to be a great game, although nobody at the time expected it to turn out to be one of the greatest games in NBA history.
In the overtime period, a Dick Van Arsdale jumper brought the Suns within one point with :15 left to play. Then Paul Westphal stole Boston’s inbound pass, which led to a Curtis Perry jumper which gave the Suns a 110-109 lead with five seconds remaining. Boston answered when John Havlicek hit a runner off the backboard with :02 left to give the Celtics a 111-110 lead. Some, including CBS play-by-play man Brent Musberger, thought the game was over. Fans spilled out on to the floor and one assaulted referee Richie Powers.
After a delay, the officials called a technical foul on the Suns for calling a timeout after they had used their allotment. JoJo White hit the free throw, putting the Celtics up by two points. Powers and crew also put one second on the clock for the Suns. With fans still lining the court, Perry inbounded from the right sideline at midcourt. He found Garfield Heard at the top of the key, who caught and launched a turnaround jumper over Don Nelson that rattled through the rim, tied the game and silenced the raucous Boston crowd.
The game headed to a third overtime, where the Celtics outlasted the Suns and won the game 128-126. Boston would go on to beat the Suns in Phoenix in Game 6 to claim their 13th NBA championship.
2. Tim Thomas bails out the Suns with a three (2006)
Before the Suns could be saved by Raja Bell’s three in the corner against the Clippers, they had to navigate their first-round matchup against the Lakers.
It didn’t look like they would.
Kobe Bryant hit a runner with :29 left, putting the Lakers up 105-102. On the ensuing possession, the Suns looked less than organized. Steve Nash lost the ball on a penetration and Leandro Barbosa gained possession and kicked it to Nash in the left corner. His three-pointer was no good, but Shawn Marion grabbed the rebound and found Tim Thomas out front. Thomas caught, pump-faked, let defender Kwame Brown fly by and then calmly nailed a three-pointer to tie the game with 6.3 seconds left.
Marion and Boris Diaw would each score six points in the overtime and the Suns won 126-118, forcing a Game 7 in Phoenix, which the Suns won easily to advance.
1. Barkley shoots the Suns into the Western Conference Finals (1993)
Nearly everything went right for the Phoenix Suns in the 1992-93 season. America West Arena opened, Charles Barkley was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia and won the MVP and the Suns won a league-high 62 games.
Then the playoffs started.
The Suns fell behind an overmatched Lakers squad 0-2 in a best-of-five first-round series, but rallied to take the next three to advance to the Western semifinals, where they would meet the San Antonio Spurs.
Normalcy returned in this series. Each team won on its home floor through Game 5. That would change in Game 6 in San Antonio and Barkley was to thank.
With the game tied at 100-100 with 11 seconds remaining, Frank Johnson tossed the inbound pass to Barkley near the midcourt logo at Hemisfair Arena. Barkley caught the ball, locked in on the game clock above the basket and just spun it in his hands as San Antonio superstar David Robinson drew the defensive assignment. With about five seconds left, Barkley made his move, taking three dribbles and launching a jumper from the top of the key over the outstretched arm of Robinson. The ball swished through the net with 1.8 seconds to go, giving the Suns a 102-100 lead.
The Spurs had an opportunity, but rookie Oliver Miller blocked the shot, sending the Suns to the conference finals against Seattle.
Naysayers will point out that had Barkley missed the shot, the game still likely would have gone to overtime. This is true, but Barkley’s shot was representative of the dominant season he and the Suns had and punctuated Phoenix’s ascendance to the elite level.
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