Poised for a Return
AFTER WINNING A FRANCHISE-HIGH 62 games and making an NBA Finals appearance the previous season, the Phoenix Suns appeared poised to make another run at a ring in 1993-94.
|"Thunder" Dan Majerle set the all-time NBA record for three-pointers in a season hitting for 192.|
Welcome to the Playoffs,
"Joe Kleine is a great competitor who will fit in extremely well with our club," said Suns President and CEO Jerry Colangelo. "And A.C., he's a proven winner. But more than anything, he represents class and character."
Bringing their lunch pails and hard hats to the America West Arena, both newcomers proved to be valuable additions - particularly Green, who averaged 14.7 points and 9.2 rebounds a night and appeared in all 82 regular season games.
The rest of the team wasn't quite as consistent, however. The Suns lost a total of 211 player games to injury or illness in '93-94. They even lost a few mascot games as the Suns' Gorilla was put on the shelf for a portion of the season with a shoulder injury. But it all started with forward Cedric Ceballos, who had suffered a fractured foot during the '93 playoffs and would be forced to sit out the first 29 games of the new season. Yet, despite having CC on ice, Phoenix rolled out to a 24-6 start, posting an impressive 13-2 record in December. But then came January.
Floor general Kevin Johnson, forward/comedian Charles Barkley and sharp shooting sub Danny Ainge were all sidelined after the new year. Johnson missed 15 games from January 5 to February 6 with a variety of leg and ankle injuries, as well as the chicken pox, Barkley missed 17 contests after suffering a torn quadriceps tendon in his right knee on January 7 and Ainge missed 10 games after an ankle sprain of his own on Jan. 20. With two of their starters and a key reserve all in dress clothes, the Suns struggled to a 7-8 mark in January, their first losing month since November 1991.
There was some good news in January, however, as Ceballos returned to the lineup to help lead the team that month. Any concerns over his health were quickly put to rest with his 40-point, 14-rebound performance in a win over Portland on Jan. 22. He followed that up with a 34-point effort in New York and another 40-digit outing at Atlanta in their next two games.
Phoenix bounced back to capture an 8-4 record in February, welcoming KJ, Barkley and Ainge back to the lineup. All three played well down the stretch, although Johnson had a particularly impressive run in April, a month which saw him shatter the franchise record for assists, handing out 25 in a win against San Antonio on April 6.
With their full roster at full strength, the Suns closed out the regular season by winning 15 of their last 19 games, ending their march into the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak. Overall, the Suns finished with a 56-26 record, third best in the Western Conference.
"If we've got the best team, we will win," said a semi-serious Barkley as the team headed into the postseason. "If we don't, we won't. And I'll be on the golf course."
The Chuckster would have to wait a few weeks to hit the links as the Suns drew the overmatched Golden State Warriors in the opening round. Barkley scored 36 in Game 1 and KJ led with 38 points in Game 2, as the Suns took a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five series. Game 3 would be no different. On the road, Barkley exploded with 56 points, the third-highest total ever in an NBA Playoff game, to sweep the Warriors into the offseason. His dominating effort was somewhat ironic as it came against rookie sensation Chris Webber, who was featured in a Nike commercial earlier in the season boasting about how he dunked on Sir Charles.
Heading into the conference semifinals, Phoenix was on a roll - a giant Kaiser-sized roll, to be exact. But starting out on the road, against the Midwest Division Champion Houston Rockets and their newly-named league MVP Hakeem Olajuwon, the Suns would have their hands full. Or so everyone thought.
Behind a 21-point, 12-rebound showing from Barkley, the Suns cruised to a 91-87 Game 1 win at the Houston Summit. A far from sold out Houston Summit, it should be noted. Game 2 would be more of the same, with the exception of a closer-to-capacity crowd, filled in by some 350-plus Suns fans who were flown into Texas by Colangelo. The small sections of purple-clad fans were in for a treat as they cheered the Suns on to another win, this time overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit of 20 points to pull out a win in OT.
The Suns appeared to be in good position heading home. There was even talk of another sweep among fans in Phoenix. But those who had watched Olajuwon throughout the season knew such sentiments were painfully premature.
The Rockets marched into America West Arena and marched right back out with victories in Games 3 and 4. Despite back-to-back 38-point outbursts from KJ, the Rockets grabbed the momentum with a wrenching grip, winning both contests by double digits.
The teams split the next two games, each winning on its home floor, setting up a climactic Game 7 in Houston.
But the injury bug reared its ugly head for the Suns once again. A painful groin injury, suffered earlier in the series, prevented Barkley from performing his usual heroics in the clutch. Not that his effort wasn't heroic enough. Sir Charles and the rest of the club left everything they had on the floor - but it was just short of enough. Olajuwon poured in 37 points and grabbed 17 boards in a 104-94 Suns loss.
After their 4-3 series win, the Rockets went on to win their first of two consecutive NBA Championships and the Suns, meanwhile, began looking ahead to '94-95.
Became only the second player in NBA history to reach the 900 mark for three-pointers made in a career on Jan. 18, vs. Dallas.
Awarded the Drazen Petrovic Trophy as the MVP of the McDonald's Open during the preseason.
Led Suns in scoring (21.6 ppg) and rebounds (11.2 rpg).
The league's leading vote-getter in fan balloting, Barkley was unable to play in the NBA All-Star Game due to injury.
Tallied 56 points (career-high and third-highest total in NBA Playoff history) vs. Golden State in Game 3 of the first round.
Led Suns in postseason with 27.6 points and 13.0 rebounds per game.
Averaged 19.1 points and 6.5 boards, his career highs as a Sun.
Led Suns and ranked fifth in NBA in assists per game (9.5).
Ranked second on team in scoring (20.0 ppg).
Set franchise records for steals (10 vs. Washington, Dec. 9) and assists (25 vs. San Antonio, April 6).
Made his third and final All-Star Game appearance as a Sun, tallying six points and two assists in 14 minutes.
Scored 266 total points in the postseason to become Suns all-time leader at 1,541, surpassing Walter Davis' 1,288.
Set all-time NBA record for three-pointers in a season with 192 (previous was 172 by Vernon Maxwell in 1991).
Led league in three-pointers made and attempted (503).
Tied his own franchise record with eight treys at the Clippers on Nov. 9.
The Suns played two of their preseason games in Munich, Germany, as part of the McDonald's Open. They defeated Madrid in the semifinals and then downed Buckler Bologna to capture the crown.
Paul Westphal became the fourth fastest coach in NBA history to record 100 wins with his victory at Washington on March 9.
On April 3, the Suns retired Walter Davis' No. 6, making him the fifth player in franchise history to have his jersey number removed from circulation.
Despite all of their injury problems, the Suns never lost more than two games in a row all season.
Phoenix led the NBA in assists per game as a team, averaging 27.6.
The Suns wrapped up the '93-94 campaign by winning 11-straight games at the America West Arena, finishing with a 36-5 home record, tied for the franchise record.