THE SUNS POSTED THEIR FOURTH-STRAIGHT SEASON with 50 or more wins and carried their regular-season success right into the playoffs, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 3-0 in the first round. After falling behind two games to none against the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Semifinals, the season had boiled down to a must-win situation in Game 3 in Phoenix. The Suns did prevail, 124-117, setting up one of the best playoff games in Phoenix's history.
The night was May 11, 1992, and by the time the final of many, many roars filled the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the game brought more than its fair share of historical significance.
In its final season as home for the Suns, the Coliseum was living up to its reputation as the "Madhouse on McDowell" thanks to the record-setting number of raucous fans who packed the building that year. But in Game 4, the noise in the Madhouse hit never-heard-before levels.
From the introduction on, the game was a true classic. As had been the case in the first two games in Portland, the Blazers jumped out to an early lead, 42-29 after just one quarter. The Suns trimmed a 74-65 halftime deficit to 104-100 as the fourth quarter got under way.
Enter the historical significance. What was about to happen would keep fans in the Coliseum a lot longer than they expected.
The Suns tied the game at 106-106 on the strength of Dan Majerle's defensive heroics. His steal of an Ennis Whatley pass keyed a fastbreak basket by Tim Perry. The already revved-up Suns faithful decided it was time for another run up the decibel scale. Players, coaches and officials had to communicate with sign language and the fans' intentions of driving the Blazers to a complete state of distraction was apparently working.
Tom Chambers hit two free throws with 2:34 remaining to put the Suns up 125-118. But Portland rallied behind Terry Porter, who scored five of his team's next nine points. The game was tied at 127 with 4.6 seconds left. A final play never developed for Phoenix, and the two weary, nearly tone-deaf teams headed for overtime.
Like a couple of heavyweight fighters, Phoenix and Portland traded punches, as neither team led by more than two in the first overtime. Porter missed two free throws with 8.4 seconds left and KJ tied the game with a 15-footer with 2.7 seconds left. It was on to another overtime.
With 11 seconds gone in the next frame, Johnson fouled out, leaving the offense to be run by backup Steve Burtt. The Suns battled on, however, and led 149-146 with less than a minute and a half to play. The Blazers regained the lead before a Majerle jumper put the Suns ahead 151-150 with 27 seconds left. Kevin Duckworth put the Blazers up by two with 10.7 left. The Suns missed a shot, and fouled Porter, who made just one of two free throws - giving the Suns the last shot, trailing 153-151 with 3.6 seconds to go.
Majerle's three-point shot missed wide right, though, ending a game that seemed would ever lack a conclusion. The game, which set an NBA Playoff record for most points scored by both teams at 304, left both sides impressed.
"You couldn't ask for a better game than that," said Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. Said Portland's Jerome Kersey, "It felt like four overtimes. I hope no one walks away disappointed, because they have no reason to."
The fans did walk away, for the last time, from the Coliseum. The Suns dropped Game 5 in Portland, meaning the last game had already been played on the court they called home for 24 seasons.
Fans who visited the Coliseum during the '91-92 season helped set a new regular-season attendance record at 14,496 fans per game. Even with the disappointing loss to Portland, Suns followers were excited about the new arena that would open for the following season. And they were excited about the direction the Suns were headed.
Over the previous four seasons, the Suns had compiled a 217-111 regular season mark, the fifth-best record in the NBA behind only the Bulls, Lakers, Pistons and Trail Blazers during that span.
The franchise had also reached its 1,000th win, becoming just the 12th franchise in NBA history to reach the plateau. Only Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers did so in less time.
Five Suns players - Jeff Hornacek, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers and Tim Perry - averaged double-figure scoring and Phoenix averaged 112.1 points per game as a team, second in the league. And, an offensive-minded second-year player named Cedric Ceballos won the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend.