THE BEAUTY OF THE 1975-76 SEASON for the Phoenix Suns was in the fact that, even at midseason, the end result hardly seemed possible.
The Suns opened perhaps their most exciting season by wining 14 of their first 23 games. The 14-9 start was the best in franchise history. A string of injuries and a puzzling mid-season slump, however, had the Suns winning only four of their next 22. But after the All-Star break, Phoenix caught fire going 24-13 and storming into the playoffs against the Seattle SuperSonics.
In the second to last game of the regular season, the team clinched its first playoff berth in six years by defeating the L.A. Lakers, 113-98, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. That game also marked the Suns' first sellout at the Coliseum in three years.
There were several reasons for the Suns' turnaround: a Charlie Scott for Paul Westphal trade in the offseason, the drafting of Alvan Adams and Ricky Sobers, the acquisition of Al Bianchi as assistant coach and the midseason trade that sent John Shumate to Buffalo and brought Garfield Heard to Phoenix.
Adams, who had played for MacLeod at the University of Oklahoma, gave the Suns a center who could run, pass and shoot, which many centers didn't do at the time. In fact, Adams was particularly difficult for the top center of the era - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to defend. Sobers had earned the reputation of being a hard-nosed defender during his college career at Nevada-Las Vegas. His selection was with the draft pick the Suns obtained from New Orleans in the Neal Walk trade the year before.
In Heard, MacLeod again gained a player who was with him at OU and who would assist in the all-important rebounding category. But more importantly, he would provide the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." But we'll get to that in a paragraph or two.
The success the Suns enjoyed in the postseason seemed like a distant dream on the night of Feb. 20, when guard Dick Van Arsdale suffered a broken left arm. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as Sobers moved into the starting lineup and added to the Suns' defensive prowess. The late-season surge was capped with a dramatic seven-game winning streak that took Phoenix from four games under .500 to three above. The Suns defeated the arch-rival Lakers three times in the season's final 13 games to secure the postseason berth.
Phoenix eliminated the Seattle SuperSonics 4-2 in the opening round, then went on to upset the World Champion Golden State Warriors and Rick Barry, 4-3. The clincher came on a Sunday afternoon in Oakland. When the Suns arrived at Sky Harbor at midnight, they were greeted by a welcoming committee that numbered over 5,000. Phoenix had gained a berth in the NBA Finals against the fabled Boston Celtics, led by Dave Cowens and John Havlicek. The Suns lost the first two games in Boston, but came back to knot the series with a pair of victories in Phoenix.
And then there was THE game.
Game 5 will no doubt go down in basketball history as one of the most exciting ever played: a triple overtime contest filled with clutch shot after clutch shot. No shot, however, was more clutch than Heard's turnaround, high-arcing, buzzer beating jumper from 18 feet to send the game into its third extra period. In the end, Boston would get the win and would go on to win the series 4-2, but not before the Suns would make a name for themselves in the basketball world.
As if the team's incredible accomplishments weren't enough, Adams was named the NBA Rookie of the Year and General Manager Jerry Colangelo was named NBA Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.