Published: July, 1993
The Pacific Division Champion Phoenix Suns embarked on their title quest with visions of brooms dancing in their heads. The opposition was the sub-.500 Los Angeles Lakers – who had dispatched the Suns six times in the playoffs since 1970, twice in the Western Conference Finals and twice in the first round. But, with the glory days of Jerry West, Kareem and the Magic man behind them, the Lakers had something to prove.
They still had James Worthy and Byron Scott, of course, whose fingers were adorned with four title rings each. And Phoenix certainly respected L.A.’s past triumphs and set aside any notions of easy wins. They would win at home for sure, but it would not be without a valiant Laker effort. So they thought.
The Lakers, according to hoop experts, were fodder for the NBA Finals-bound Suns. Well, the hoop gods must have been suffering from an acute case of “Sunstroke.” With a cache of pride and composure, the 1992-93 Lakers started to do something that would have made the Lakers of old marvel with raised eyebrows.
In Game 1, L.A.’s Sedale Threatt scored 35 points as the Lakers upset the Kevin Johnson-less Suns, 107-103. KJ suffered a knee injury during a post-game celebration at Portland a week earlier, but Phoenix got a strong performance from Charles Barkley, who tallied 34 points and 15 rebounds despite Elden Campbell’s 6-11 defensive posture.
In Game 2, Vlade Divac’s 19 points and 19 boards negated KJ’s return. Barkley pulled down a Phoenix record-tying 21 rebounds, but in what seemed like just a snap of the fingers, the Suns saw their homecourt advantage disappear and were left scratching their heads.
Yet, with frightening poise and confidence, coach Paul Westphal uttered words that will be etched forever in the annals of Suns basketball: “We will go to Los Angeles and win both games. We will then come back to Phoenix and win Game 5. Then everyone will say what a great series it was.”
Prophecies aside, the Suns would not lose with Barkley shifting gears with MVP-like power and will. The Suns ventured to the City of Angels – with faint sounds of Taps ringing in their ears – only to play like they had during their record-setting and NBA-best 62-win season. With history bearing a mischievous smirk and pointed finger, Phoenix did not blink an eye. No team had ever come back after losing the first two games at home in a five-game series, but this storied Phoenix bunch was not like any team of the past.
Game 3 was won by Phoenix, 107-102, behind Barkley’s 27 points and three clutch three-pointers by Danny Ainge. However, the Lakers still owned another chance to knock them off without leaving the friendly confines of the Forum.
Game 4 had Valley fans glued once again to the edge of their seats as the Suns beat the Lakers 101-86. Barkley grabbed the spotlight in grand fashion with 28 points and the stage was set for a showdown in Phoenix. Only no one said anything about a rookie stealing the show. That wide-eyed, cherubic rook? Oliver Miller.
As the eyes of the basketball world looked on, Miller’s veteran-like play overshadowed Dan Majerle’s breathless 15-footer to tie Game 5 at 95-95 with 13.6 seconds left in regulation.
Byron Scott’s three-point attempt fell short at the buzzer and so did the Lakers’ chances.
Miller, Phoenix’s 1992 first-round draft pick, who had hit clutch free throws with 45.9 seconds left in Game 3, stepped up once again. He scored nine of his 17 points in the overtime of Phoenix’s 112-104 win. He also blocked a Suns playoff record seven shots as the pesky Lakers kept battling back.
Whispers of future stardom for the Big O circled the Suns’ camp as they set sail to meet the Admiral, David Robinson, in the second round. Barkley and the boys could not help but grin with eager anticipation as Phoenix secured – with an iron will – a chance to move on.