|Which Suns game in history do you wish you could have attended?||WINS
The potential to be able to experience things you’ve only heard stories about or have only seen in fragments on YouTube, in person is an opportunity anyone, especially sports fans, would be excited about.
Inevitably, as is with everything in my life, my thoughts turned to the Phoenix Suns. (Don’t believe me? Just ask Mrs. Espo.) What if this holographic technology could be used to relive, or experience for the first time, a classic Suns game? What game would I choose and why?
With that in mind, I decided to challenge Suns.com’s resident video and comic nerd – don’t hold that against him when you vote – Brad Faye to yet another debate he can’t possibly win. The topic is simple, if you could go back in time, or via hologram, and experience any Suns game, which game would you go to?
Like the answer to Team Aniston or Team Jolie –it’s Team Aniston of course, but that’s an argument for another day – there is only one answer to this debate. It has to be the Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals.
Admittedly, I’ve never actually seen all of Game 5, but the lore of that triple overtime contest has permeated my brain like seasoning into a steak that has been marinating for weeks. Despite only seeing a fraction of the actual game action – I promise I inadvertently rhymed like Walt Frazier there – I know the details of the game and the fact that it’s viewed as one of the greatest in NBA history.
I know many of you, Mr. Faye included, will say, “But Greg, didn’t they lose that game? Why would you want to put in all that effort just to see a loss?”Well the answer is simple, I’m a masochist. Alright, that’s not really the reason. It’s the fact that you won’t find a more interesting, dramatic, bizarre and heady game in NBA history.
This game was so dramatic that TNT thought about optioning it for a 22-episode run, calling it Celtics & Suns and pairing it with “Rizzoli & Isles” and “Franklin & Bash.” The plan fell through when they realized it was far more entertaining and suspenseful than the other two. (Editors Note: The previous passage may be complete fiction just constructed to make a humorous point.)
In all seriousness though, the game had everything a sports fan could want. Tensions were high entering the game thanks to the two previous results. Suns guard Ricky Sobers and Celtics guard Kevin Statcom got in a fist fight during Game 3 and both were ejected. Then Game 4 was a two-point Suns win that came off of the aforementioned Sobers’ late shot that tied the series at 2-2.
Despite trailing by as many as 20 points in the first quarter of Game 5, the Suns stormed back and took the lead late in the game. The Celtics tied it to send the game to overtime. Just that massive comeback would have made the game an interesting choice, but it was what happened after regulation that makes it a no brainer.
The first overtime was a defensive slugfest – although, unlike Game 3, no punches were actually thrown – with each team only scoring six points. For the first four and a half minutes the second overtime was a back-and-forth affair. The last 30 seconds would give new meaning to the phrase.
With 19 seconds left on the clock the Celtics had a 109-106 lead. Dick Van Arsdale would hit a mid-range jumper for the Suns to cut the lead to one with 7 seconds left on the Boston Garden clock. Paul Westphal would steal the inbounds pass and, while falling out of bounds, save it to Van Arsdale who passed it to Curtis Perry who hit a baseline jumper to give Phoenix a one-point lead with just 5 seconds remaining. Those last five ticks of the clock would become what legends are made out of.
After a timeout, John Havlicek got the ball at half court and made the kind of improbable running one-hander, the kind Steve Nash would later emulate, to win the game. Or at least that’s what everyone at the Boston Garden thought. While the fans left their seats and turned the historic parquet floor into a large mass of humanity usually reserved for the dance floor of a Vegas club, the referees determined that there was still a second left on the clock.
Then came the real drama.
After the refs cleared the fans off the court and the teams returned from the locker room, Westphal became the original Chris Webber by calling a timeout his team didn’t have. The difference being that Westphal did it on purpose, or so the legend goes. He was called for a technical, putting the Celtics up by two but giving Phoenix the ball at half court. The play setup a little thing called “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The inbound pass found Gar Heard at the top of the key and his high floating jumper went into the net and the history books.
Yes, the Suns would fall short in the third overtime and inevitably in the series, but it is the only game I’d want a chance to witness in person.
Don’t take my word for it though, I brought in a ringer to help me with this argument; a man who was there. The one and only Alvan Adams:
When you are immersed in a game like that (whether a player, fan or coach) I don’t believe you recognize the monumentality of it – I certainly didn’t. Having said that, however, I enjoyed myself in the overtime. I fouled out near the end of regulation and had an excellent seat for what turned out to be another hour or so of top-notch basketball. I was able to gaze around the venerable Boston Garden much more than if I were still allowed to play with the rest of the guys. And luckily for the Suns, Paul Westphal was still playing and thinking…
When you take into consideration the venue, the players on the floor, the magnitude of the game and the fact that it was the great Celtics coached by Red Auerbach, it’s obvious that this game is the only choice. Even if the only way you could see it live was for it to be replayed by holographic representations of all those involved.
Obviously, common sense here tells me to go with the other triple overtime game from Suns history as my selection (the one that took place between Phoenix and Chicago back in 1993), but there’s one small problem with that – I don’t have any common sense.
Because as much as I want to – and will – bash Greg for choosing a Suns loss, it’s also difficult to choose a game that the Suns appeared to gift wrap for the Bulls down the stretch. There’s no way this contest should have even required one overtime session, let alone three of them, but thanks to a very sloppy fourth quarter the Suns allowed the Bulls to – excuse me while I summon my inner Marv Albert – “tie the game.” And while you could assume a game this historic would include some pretty memorable shots down the stretch, the truth is that neither team could buy a bucket in the game’s closing minute of regulation.
Overtime wasn’t much prettier as the two ball clubs combined to score an underwhelming eight points. One of the lowlights of the closing moments saw Kevin Johnson miss a layup (that could have been called a charge), Charles Barkley miss the follow and then Danny Ainge miss a wide-open shot from downtown. It was so ugly a sequence that it even failed to excite the game’s color commentator, Magic Johnson – a man who, as four quarters of listening to him can prove, is very easily impressed. Johnson said at one point, “These guys are fatigued and they’re playing like it.” Remember that he is saying this during the first overtime. You can only imagine what they looked like in the second and third, or you can pull up YouTube and actually watch it – totally your call.
I appreciate watching guys gut it out with something on the line (Kevin Johnson played an astounding 62 minutes alone), but this is basically just a game where the Suns made things a lot harder for themselves than they needed to. The second overtime was a vast improvement over the first in terms of play. Still had the Suns not collapsed in the fourth quarter the way they did, they could have not only won in regulation but bought some time for players who had just participated in three grueling postseason series against the Lakers, Spurs and SuperSonics.
Just because a game is historic doesn’t make it great. If you go back and actually watch the game again, you’ll find that, while the intensity is unbelievable (as it should be for a game of this magnitude), the play of the Suns left more to be desired. And besides, wearing my purple and orange Starter jacket in a red sea of Bulls fanatics would have had me sticking out like a sore thumb. That’s why, if given the option, I’m not only choosing a Suns victory, but I’m choosing one that I can share with my fellow Suns fans. After all, this isn’t a debate over “Greatest Suns Game Ever”; it is a debate over which Suns game in franchise history would be the most fun to attend. One such game did take place back in 1993, but it wasn’t against the Bulls. It was fittingly against our biggest rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.
After falling behind 0-2 in that year’s opening round best-of-five series to the Lakers, not many people could have predicted that the Suns would even have found themselves in a decisive Game 5. But following Paul Westphal’s famous guarantee that the Suns would win their next two games in Los Angeles, the two teams were in fact back in Phoenix for a winner-take-all Game 5.
Now, I understand that “Game 5” doesn’t quite have the pizazz that “Game 7” has, but back in 1993, the opening round series was best of five so the difference is trivial. Don’t hold it against me. This game had just as much riding on it as any winner-take-all contest.
After making Westphal look like Nostradamus with their Game 3 and Game 4 victories in “La La Land”, it appeared a foregone conclusion that the Suns would ride that momentum back home with them and close out the Lakers in Game 5 without much of a problem. That did not prove to be the case, however.
Not helping matters for the Suns was the fact that Dan Majerle was suffering from severe gastroenteritis – something that sounds even less fun to have than it does to say. It was so severe that “Thunder Dan” actually started off his day in the emergency room where he was visited by the team’s doctor, Craig Phelps. Phelps recently recalled the accounts of that experience to Suns.com’s Stefan Swiat, revealing that he had to hold the All-Star’s IV bag in the car when they departed the hospital and drove to the arena together.
As expected, the Lakers showed no mercy on this Mother’s Day, and led by James Worthy’s 24 points off the bench actually had the lead in Phoenix during the game’s closing moments. But shots by Barkley, and an amazing off-balance shot by the under-the-weather Majerle, forced an overtime session dominated by the Suns. Majerle finished the game with 19 points while Barkley led all scorers in the affair with 31. The victory advanced their team into the Conference Semifinals during a postseason run that would ultimately lead to an appearance in the NBA Finals.
I’m all for history, but history doesn’t automatically equate to a feeling of contentedness. And as a Suns fan, I’ve never been very content after watching my team lose. And as a Suns fan, if I’m going to go through all the trouble of traveling back in time to an era where my cell phone won’t even get service, I better at least be in a good mood when I get back. Walking out of the Boston Garden a sweaty, disgusting mess with thousands of Celtic fans obnoxiously screaming in my face isn’t exactly my definition of a good time. Not to mention the fact that my team was then facing the overwhelming task of overcoming a 3-2 series deficit against one of the league’s best teams.
I’d prefer an atmosphere where I’m high-fiving fellow Suns fans and have officially regained the optimism I had about this team when they began the 1993 NBA playoffs.
And if you bleed purple and orange, there isn’t any reason why you don’t feel the same way.