Suns Road to 1993 NBA Finals: Barkley Closes-Out Spurs
Following a historic season, the Suns built a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals, but the Spurs held serve at home to tie the series 2-2. In the Game 4 loss, the Suns struggled shooting from the field while the Spurs controlled the boards and consistently got to the free throw line.
Neither team had lost at home in the series throughout the first four games as they returned to Phoenix for a pivotal Game 5 matchup at America West Arena.
Western Conference Semifinals Game 5 vs San Antonio. Tuesday, May 18, 1993:
Homecourt advantage was crucial in the first four games and the Suns hoped it would stay that way entering Game 5. A back-and-forth battle through the first half had the Suns holding a narrow two-point lead at halftime.
However, the Spurs defense locked-down in the third quarter, holding the Suns to just 16 points as they took an 83-78 lead into the fourth quarter with the possibility of taking the series lead and one win away from advancing to the Conference Finals. The Spurs had shot 60 percent from the field throughout the first three quarters, but the Suns defense stepped up in the clutch and held San Antonio to just six points during the first 8:45 of the fourth.
The Suns’ defense was outstanding to close out the game and Frank Johnson was key to that turnaround. He hounded Avery Johnson to force the Spurs out of their offense while also making both his jumpers.
On the other end, Charles Barkley proved his MVP candidacy and began to take over as he put the team and the game on his back.
Barkley erupted for 19 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-of-7 from the field and converting on three three-point plays. He scored 13 consecutive points for the Suns as the team battled back to outscore the Spurs 31-14 and outrebound them 13-4 in the fourth quarter.
“The bottom line is who’s in the uniforms, it’s not X’s and O’s,” Head Coach Paul Westphal told the Arizona Republic. “Charles’ uniform isn’t big enough to hold his heart. Same for Frank.”
The Suns once again took care of business on their home court, defeating the Spurs 109-97.
Sir Charles’ 36 points were the most he scored in a game at this point in the 1993 playoff run as he also added 12 rebounds while shooting 11-of-16 from the field and 13-of-15 at the free throw line.
The Suns bounced back strong from the Game 4 loss in which the Spurs held an advantage over the Suns in field goal percentage, free throw attempts and rebounding. The team clearly made adjustments in each of those categories, posting a better field goal percentage than San Antonio (59.7% to 56.0%), getting to the free throw line more often (20-of-25 to 8-of-14) and dominating the glass with more rebounds (31 to 27).
Both teams couldn’t seem to miss as they each shot over 55% from the field for the game. At the time this was just the fifth game in NBA Playoffs history in which both teams shot at least 55% from the field. To this day, there have only been eight such games in playoff history—four of those eight games have involving the Suns.
Phoenix was back on top, holding a 3-2 series lead, but with both of the home teams winning each of the first five games, the Suns would need to either stop the trend or prepare for a Game 7.
Western Conference Semifinals Game 6 at San Antonio. Thursday, May 20, 1993:
Unless the Spurs could come back to win the series, Game 6 would be the final game at the team’s original home, HemisFair Arena. The game was looking to fall into the same narrative as the first five as the Spurs led by double-digits early in the fourth on their homecourt and a Game 7 looming.
But the Suns weren’t ready to concede just yet.
A 12-0 run helped them climb out of the hole to set up the heart-stopping finish. The score was tied 92 apiece with four minutes remaining before Kevin Johnson took control of the reigns. Johnson scored seven straight Suns points, culminating in a free throw to put the Suns up 99-95 with 30 seconds remaining.
The next three plays followed:
Dale Ellis responded with a three-pointer for the Spurs to cut the margin to 99-98.
Danny Ainge converted on one of two free throws to put the Suns back up by two.
Barkley fouled David Robinson on the ensuing rebound to send The Admiral to the line with a chance to tie the game.
After making the Suns pay for sending him to the free throw line in Game 4, Robinson once again was clutch at the charity stripe, knocking down both shots and tying the game at 100. The Suns had the ball in their possession in a tied game with 11 seconds remaining and, more importantly, the MVP.
Barkley took the inbound and was quickly guarded by the 1991-92 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Robinson. He spun the ball in his hands, patiently watching the clock roll down. With just over five seconds remaining, Barkley attacked.
Faking going inside, Barkley created just enough separation as he pulled up just above the free throw line arc and let it fly over the outstretched arm of Robinson.
“I thought about trying to run up on him and make him hit a running jumper but by the time I started to move toward Charles, he had already taken a couple of steps inside the three-point line,” Robinson told the Arizona Republic. “He hit it. That’s why he’s my choice for MVP.”
Barkley drained the 20-footer to put the Suns ahead 102-100 with 1.8 seconds left in the game. Robinson had a shot to tie the game on the next possessions, however, Oliver Miller blocked it to win the game, clinch the series and send the Suns to the conference finals with a 102-100 victory.
“I don’t think there is anything better than getting a shot to win the game, especially in a crucial situation like this,” Barkley said. “You don’t want to go to Game 7 because you don’t know what can happen.”
In addition to the game winner, Barkley was dominant with 28 points, 21 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks. He became just the second player in Suns history to record a 20/20 performance in the playoffs, joining Connie Hawkins who had 34 points and 20 rebounds in arguably the best performance of his NBA career, a win at the L.A. Lakers in Game 2 of the 1970 Western Division Semifinals.
Beyond the clutch block, Miller again came up big in a closeout game, scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting off the bench and blocking five total shots. Tom Chambers scored 10 points off the bench, including six points during the 12-0 run that put the Suns back in the game.
The Suns closed out HemisFair Arena and returned to Phoenix to await their opponent for the Western Conference Finals. Elsewhere in Texas on that Thursday, the Rockets beat the SuperSonics 103-90 to force a Game 7 in their series. On Saturday, Seattle would need overtime but held on at home for a 103-100 win to take the series 4-3 and advance to face the Suns.
It set up the first playoff series between the Suns and Sonics since the 1979 Western Conference Finals, which Seattle won in seven games on their way to their only NBA title. It was the last step to reach the NBA Finals and the Suns were looking to make sure history didn’t repeat itself.
Join us on a trip down memory lane, as Suns.com takes a look back at the team’s miraculous 1993 playoff run. Every Monday, we’ll recap the week ahead in team history as the Suns inch closer to their historic NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls.