Frank Johnson On '93
Current Suns Head Coach Frank Johnson was a reserve guard on the 1992-93 team that advanced to the NBA Finals. Although he averaged just 3.2 points in 22 playoff games, "Fourth Quarter Frank" was an important part of their amazing ride, backing up Kevin Johnson at the point guard spot.
After guiding the Suns back to the postseason in 2002-03, FJ sat down with Suns.com and recalled his memories of that incredible playoff run.
Suns.com: Can you believe it’s been 10 years since the 1993 playoffs?
Frank Johnson: It is amazing it’s already been 10 years, but I still have very vivid memories of “that shot." Actually, there are a lot of different shots I remember. I remember Charles (Barkley’s) shot against San Antonio. I remember (John) Paxson’s shot against us (in Game 6 of the Finals). I remember Byron Scott missed a shot against us in Game 5 against the Lakers in the first round. There were a lot of shots that did change our playoff situation.
Suns.com: What were your expectations for this team entering that 1992-93 season?
Johnson: Everyone knew that this team was put together to make a championship run, especially when you bring in a Charles Barkley, who they knew would bring some excitement. He was just a character and people actually came to see him, just to see what would happen in the game. He brought a lot of intensity that they hadn’t seen here before. It was all exciting, it was all new. They brought in a new coaching staff as Paul Westphal was in his first year as head coach.
Suns.com: What was your reaction to losing the first two games at home against the Lakers in the first round?
Johnson: We were down but we had a veteran team that had gone through some ups and downs. Even though we had only lost 20 games that year, we had gone through some tough losses, but none tougher than those first two against the Lakers. At the same time, we were playing without Kevin who was a big part of that team. He hurt his knee towards the end of the season and some felt he wasn’t going to be able to play at all in that playoff series. But he came back (in Game 2) and gave us a big lift. I remember that series where our younger players stepped up. Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas came in and played big roles in victories in L.A. That particular team had a great deal of confidence in each other and that certainly helped us to get 62 wins because of the amount of confidence we had. We believed in each other. We knew it could happen. We were playing against a team that we had had some success against during the year. We just had to play our game.
Suns.com: What are your strongest memories of the San Antonio series?
Johnson: I just remember getting decked by David Robinson with me doubling in the post and him coming down on the bridge of my nose. I do remember that one (laughs). I remember being in the HemisFair Arena and it was so loud, and then there was such a hush when Charles hit the shot to win it. That was pretty amazing.
Suns.com: Then you move onto the Sonics and the Conference Finals for the right to go to the NBA Finals. What do you remember most about that series?
Johnson: Us winning the first game and them coming back and winning Game 2. I was worried because they had a front line that presented problems for us. Derrick McKey for one, being 6-10. We had lost Cedric Ceballos in that playoff series, as well, and Richard Dumas was having to guard McKey who was very long and athletic and he was really giving us problems. Then they had a very solid bench. Eddie Johnson, Ricky Pierce, they had a very young Gary Payton at that time, so they were pretty loaded. Their team certainly gave us a lot of problems during the year. They came here, beat us in the second game, we went up there and beat them in Game 3, which was a pivotal game as it turned out as we regained home court advantage. They beat us in Game 4 and we came back in Game 5.
I remember Game 6 someone had put on a George Patton tape, his great speech, and it didn’t do any good. We lost but I felt at that time, we knew we didn’t have to win the game. We were too relaxed in the locker room and just relying on the fact that we were going to win Game 7. Charles in particular was really loose. I think it was Charles who brought the Patton tape in and after the game he was still very relaxed. He said, “Don’t worry about it, we’re going to win Game 7.” I was like, “how can you be so sure,” because you just don’t know. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency in Game 6. I was so fearful because you don’t know what’s going to happen. As we were playing Game 6 we were still all loose. But an injury could occur, especially to Charles or to Kevin, which could have put us in jeopardy. After the game he was still feeling that way, and after Game 7 I understood what he was talking about, when he went for 44 and 24.
Suns.com: What did you think about Barkley’s predictions about getting 40 and 20 in Game 7?
Johnson: I don’t remember his prediction about Game 7, but I know that he said, “don’t worry.” I remembered during the season when Charles said "don’t worry” or “I’ll get rebounds,” he went out and got them. In particular against Charlotte (in the regular season), we were down by 20 early in the game and they had Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. Charles said, “don’t worry about anything, I’ve got all the rebounds.” He damn near got every rebound and we came back and won that game. When he said certain things, you just said, “Okay.”
Game 7, we changed our starting line-up. We started Tom Chambers at the small forward position to offset Derrick McKey. They were really going to McKey and we had to double him because our small forwards couldn’t stay with him. We had Richard Dumas and Cedric was out at the time and sometimes we’d go with a smaller lineup and we just couldn’t do it. Tom was very instrumental in having us play those guys straight up one-on-one because they had such good shooters. Hersey Hawkins was there at the time, too.
What it allowed us to do was not double them because they were such good shooters and they spread us. We doubled-teamed and that ball was out of there and to Eddie Johnson from the corner. I remember Eddie having a good Game 7.
Suns.com: What did you think about how Tom Chambers handled his role change that season?
Johnson: Coming into that year, he certainly had to take a giant step back. You’re bringing in a Charles Barkley, you had Dan Majerle stepping up and being one of the main guys. Then you bring in Danny Ainge, you have a young Oliver Miller, Richard Dumas coming in. Tom handled his role as well as I’ve seen anyone in his position before handle it. Sometimes he played, sometimes he didn’t and he just kind of rolled with it. Of course, what made it all work was Charles' personality, which helped everything kind of gel and come together. He just kept all of us loose.
Suns.com: What are your strongest memories of the Finals against the Bulls?
Johnson: We lose the first two games here and certainly don’t play our best basketball. Again, our backs were against the wall. What I remember from the triple-overtime game was big shot after big shot. Sometimes you could say big miss after big miss. I don’t really remember other than after we won Game 5, which was a big game because they would have closed us out, and Charles said, “We saved the city,” because they had always had problems with rioting.
Game 6, one play I remember was Michael going coast to coast after a miss, and that was huge. It was in the last minute or so. And I remember missing an open jumper in the last quarter (laughs). Fourth Quarter Frank! That will haunt me forever.
Suns.com: What was the city of Phoenix like during the Finals?
Johnson: The town was just in a frenzy with excitement. Every time coming back from any road game in the playoffs, the crowds (at the airport) just kept getting bigger and bigger after every playoff series. It was pretty amazing. It went up as we went through every series. I remember after we won Game 5 in Chicago, coming back was just amazing. It was special. We had the leading rock star in the NBA that year, the Chuckster. He was like a rock star. Regardless of what time we came in, there were always a large number of autograph seekers greeting us (at the Arena). That summer Chuckster was on the Olympic Team, so everyone wanted to see the Chuckster, especially out west.
Suns.com: Where does the experience of playing in that Finals rank in your career highlights?
Johnson: I had never experienced anything like that before as a player. I had gone to the first round, second round, but never to the championship series. That’s quite special for me in my career as a player. Hopefully I’ll have a better ending as a coach one day.