THE SUNS FINALLY DID IT.
In 1990, they ended their Captain Ahab imitation and caught their great whale. Only this leviathan was wearing Lakers Blue and Gold.
The Lakers and Suns had been common postseason opponents. They had faced each other six times before, including the previous season. This time, Phoenix entered the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal after narrowly defeating Utah in the fifth and deciding game of an opening-round series. The Suns won the final game against the Jazz 104-102 behind KJ's 15-foot jump shot with less than a second left.
It was some triumph, but looming ahead for the Suns was a return match with a Lakers team that one season earlier ended the miracle of '88-89 with a four-game sweep in the Western Conference Finals.
In 1990, the Lakers-Suns series began in Inglewood, and Phoenix was able to use the momentum of its series win over Utah. A 104-102 Game 1 victory ended a 21-game losing streak for the Suns at the Forum and a 37-game losing streak for then-coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.
Behind the encouragement of Los Angeles reporter Mike Downey, who said the Suns would "fold like a tortilla," the Lakers won Game 2 124-100. Games 3 and 4 would be played Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, to accommodate CBS television.
With the Madhouse on McDowell at its noisy best, and with more than a few fans looking for Downey, the Suns blew open a close Game 3 in the second half to run away with a 117-103 victory. Forward Tom Chambers keyed the rally with seven points in a 97-second span in the third quarter.
In Game 4, the Suns jumped out to a 36-22 lead after one quarter and fought off several Lakers rallies for a 114-101 win. The Suns led the series 3-1.
The Lakers were perplexed. They had beaten essentially the same group of Suns one year earlier in four straight. However, there were two big exceptions.
First, the Suns had acquired forward Kurt Rambis from Charlotte in December. Starting alongside Tom Chambers, "Rambo" provided the strength inside to allow Chambers to shoot outside.
The other exception was in the middle, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was absent after retiring during the offseason. Mychal Thompson and Vlade Divac tried to replace Abdul-Jabbar - but even combined, they were no Kareem.
Trailing 80-77 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Suns sought to bury their past, and the Lakers with it. Leading 98-97 with 1:09 left and holding the ball, guard Jeff Hornacek fed center Mark West for a dunk. Two free throws by KJ put the Suns up by five with 44 seconds left. Phoenix went on to win 106-103.
A crowd of 9,000 gathered at the airport to wait for the Suns' early-morning arrival. Amidst the celebration was a man desperately trying to keep the win in perspective. "This one only gets us to the Western Conference Final," said President and CEO Jerry Colangelo.
The Suns would lose to the Portland Trailblazers 4-2 in those Conference Finals, bringing to an end a season with plenty of highlights. Phoenix ended the season as the second-highest scoring team in the NBA at 114.9 points per game. For the second year in a row, the Suns won at least 54 games. And, its 22 road wins established a new team record. The club also won a single-season team-record 19 in a row at home.
Other milestones included an NBA-record 61 made free throws against the Jazz on April 9. Fitzsimmons reached the .500 mark for his career with a win over Philadelphia on Feb. 24. It was the first time he was at the .500 level since March 7, 1976 when he coached Atlanta. He was also named Coach of the Month for February.
The Suns set a new all-time regular-season home attendance record, playing to 578,661 fans. Phoenix also had 26 sellouts, which set a new franchise record, topping the old mark of 18 set the season prior.
Perhaps the most amazing feat of the year came courtesy of Tom Chambers, who scored 60 points against his former Seattle teammates on March 24. Chambers hit 22 of 32 field goals and became just the 14th player in league history to score 60 points in a game.
"An unbelievable offensive show," said Fitzsimmons. "He is a monster."
Both Chambers and Kevin Johnson were named to the second-team All-NBA squad at the end of the season.