So Close


THE 1978-79 SEASON WAS PACKED FULL OF EMOTION for the Phoenix Suns. Excitement, tension, frustration all played a part in a rollicking roller coaster ride of a campaign.

Phoenix opened the regular season with the same starting lineup that began the '77-78 season: Walter Davis and Gar Heard at forward, Alvan Adams at center, with Paul Westphal and Don Buse at guard. Phoenix won five of its first six games and was 24-14 by January 1. By the All-Star break, the Suns were 32-20. For the third straight year, Westphal was an All-Star starter, and Davis made it for the second straight year.

However, by starting the same lineup, the Suns continued to have the same problem. Their small front line simply could not compete with the bigger opponents (and there were many) in the NBA. General Manager Jerry Colangelo knew the Suns needed help, and he got it.

On Jan. 12, 1979, the Suns obtained Leonard "Truck" Robinson from the New Orleans Jazz in exchange for Ron Lee, Marty Byrnes, a pair of first-round picks in 1979 and 1980 and undisclosed cash.

The intent of the trade was simple - make the Suns a more physical force inside, and at the same time, allow Adams to concentrate on operating from the high post, where the Suns could take full advantage of his passing abilities. With Heard going to the sixth man role, Phoenix also added depth at power forward.

With their new found strength, the Suns ended the regular season in spectacular fashion, capturing a record 50th win in the season's 80th game. The victory was also part of a late-season, eight-game winning streak, which also included an emotional overtime win over Seattle that qualified the Suns for the playoffs for the second year in a row and the fourth time in their 11 NBA seasons.

In the playoffs, the Suns started with a three-game struggle with Portland. In the deciding third game, Phoenix trailed by 12 late in the third quarter, but rallied to post the win, and take the series, 2-1.

The Suns then thrashed Kansas City (4-1), before losing to the eventual-NBA Champion Seattle SuperSonics, 3-4, in a hard-fought Western Conference Finals series. The Suns actually led the Sonics three games to two, and had the lead late in Game 6, but let it slip away. They were narrowly beaten in the deciding Game 7 in Seattle.

With an injured Washington team waiting in the NBA Finals, observers noted the Suns would have been a favorite to capture the NBA Championship if they had eliminated the Sonics. As it was, the Sonics captured the crown, sweeping - that's right, sweeping - the Bullets in four.

The 1979 Playoffs also provided more fun trivia: Game Three of the Western Conference semifinal series with Kansas City was played in Phoenix, but not at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Because of a scheduling conflict, the game had to be moved to the Arizona State University Activity Center. The Suns won the game, 108-93.

Record: 50-32

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