Suns Road to 1993 NBA Finals: The Finish Line

“Grandpa Charles, tell us about when you hurt your arm and played three overtimes against the Chicago Bulls. Please, grandpa Charles.” 

In the days between Game 3 and Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Charles Barkley gave the media a glimpse into the future by imagining his hypothetical grandchildren begging for a story.

“I could barely walk that morning,” Barkley continued, as reported by the Associated Press. “The doctors went in there, sewed my arm on. It was ripped off in a tractor-trailer accident. They sewed my arm on, I could barely lift it above my knee. By game time, I was able to get those rebounds and score those points. I talked the doctor into letting me play. He wasn’t going to let me. He said, Charles, you can’t go, you just can’t go.’ I said, ‘But doctor, I’ve got to go. We’re down two-zip. Please, doc, please.’ But he said no until I started screaming and crying.” 

Barkley may have embellished some, but the yarn he spun captured the storybook nature of the Suns’ marathon win in Game 3. After falling behind 2-0 and squandering homecourt advantage with two losses in Phoenix, the Suns showed incredible resolve during Game 3 in Chicago.

Led by Barkley, Dan Majerle and Kevin Johnson, the Suns refused to give up in just the second triple overtime game in NBA Finals history, outlasting the Bulls to draw the series to 2-1. Game 4 would be pivotal, however, as the Suns looked to avoid a 3-1 deficit. At that time, no team had ever erased a 3-1 deficit to claim a title.

Barkley, whose right elbow was heavily wrapped in Game 3 after rupturing his bursar sac during a fall in Game 2, was forced to change his preparation schedule leading into Game 4. 

“I won’t shoot in practice or play golf the next two days,” Barkley said. “We’ll put ice on it and anti-inflammatory medicine, and hopefully it will be fine by Wednesday.” 

Despite being unable to play golf with one another due to his injury, he and Michael Jordan continued to hang out between games. Jordan had played 57 minutes in Game 3, the most minutes he would ever log in any game throughout his NBA career, as he scored 44 points on 43 field goal attempts. Only Rick Barry and Elgin Baylor have also attempted at least 43 field goals in an NBA Finals game.

Kevin Johnson replaced Majerle as Jordan’s primary defender in Game 3 and KJ responded with his best game of the series. The point guard scored 25 points and played an NBA Finals record 62 minutes while contributing to Jordan’s inefficient performance. However, Johnson was careful not to give himself too much credit and stoke Jordan’s legendary vindictiveness.

“I’m not going to do anything that’s going to get him angry,” Johnson said. “That’s one thing for sure at this point. I’m going to be very diplomatic. There’s a lot of games left.”

NBA Finals Game 4 at Chicago. Wednesday, June 16, 1993

Despite Barkley battling injury and Jordan battling fatigue, the two stars once again shined in another historic NBA Finals matchup.

The Suns were down by double-digits late in the third quarter, and doing all they could to avoid a 3-1 series deficit, continued to chip away at the Bulls lead in the fourth. Barkley gave the Suns a chance as the MVP scored four points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to cut the margin to 106-104 with 1:01 remaining.

Barkley was outstanding throughout the entire night, leading the Suns with 32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. At the time he joined Jerry West and James Worthy as the only players with 30-point triple doubles in the NBA Finals (only LeBron James and Stephen Curry have joined the club since). This was also just the second triple-double in Suns playoff history with the first coming from Barkley in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Suns regained possession with 33 seconds left to play and an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds. However, Danny Ainge’s inbound pass to Kevin Johnson was bobbled and stolen away by B.J. Armstrong as the ball returned to the Bulls.

Phoenix was desperate for a stop, but Jordan drove to the basket, knocked down the shot and was fouled by Barkley to put the Bulls ahead 109-104 with 13.3 seconds remaining.

“I was very disappointed with the way I played the last game,” Jordan said. “I wanted to do my part this game. I tried to draw some fouls. If I didn’t get foul, I got some easy layups. I kept going to the hoop.”

The clutch bucket topped-off Jordan’s historic 55-point performance, tied for the second most ever in an NBA Finals game. The Bulls held off the late comeback from the Suns to take a 3-1 series lead, moving to within one win of their third straight title.

“The big difference in the game was they had Michael and we didn’t,” Paul Westphal said via The Arizona Republic.

Despite the loss, Richard Dumas continued his strong play in the Finals as the rookie scored 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

The Bulls led 3-1 and now needed just one win to join the Boston Celtics (1959-1966) and Minneapolis Lakers (1952-1954) as the only teams to win three straight titles. And they had a chance to do so at home if they won Game 5. The city of Chicago prepared for the celebration.

“I find it very presumptuous,” Barkley said before Game 5. “They’ve got the national guard out. They’ve got the police in force. They’ve got every bar in town boarding up their windows. That’s rude. It’s like selling the estate before the person’s dead.”

Written on the chalkboard in the Suns’ locker room at Chicago Stadium as they prepared for Game 5 were three words: Save the City.

NBA Finals Game 5 at Chicago, Friday, June 18, 1993

The Suns were one game away from elimination with the daunting task of defeating Jordan and the Bulls on their homecourt with the entire city of Chicago awaiting another championship.

Since '68: Save the City

The “Save the City” motto seemed to provide some much-needed motivation for the Suns locker room as they came out of the gates strong. The Suns led by 12 at the end of the first quarter and were up 54-49 at halftime after going. On a 9-0 run late in the first half.

The Suns quickly build their lead up to 14 points at 72-58 as Dumas made his first five field goals of the second half, scoring 11 points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. Every time the Bulls attempted to close the gap, the Suns responded with a three-pointer.

Danny Ainge’s three with 3:25 remaining and Kevin Johnson’s three-point play with 1:41 left served as the daggers as the Suns pulled-off the upset in Chicago.

The Suns returned the series to Phoenix and staved off elimination for the fifth time during their playoff run, earning their second road victory in three games in Chicago with a 108-98 victory.

“They showed a lot of energy, and we could never get control of the game,” Phil Jackson said via The Arizona Republic.

Dumas scored a team-high 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting, scoring 11 in both the first and third quarters to jump start the team in both halves. Dumas remains the only rookie to score at least 25 points in a Finals game since Magic Johnson in 1980.

Kevin Johnson tied Dumas for the team high, scoring 25 points of his own in addition to dishing out eight assists. Barkley scored 24 points with six rebounds and six assists while Majerle had a game-high 12 rebounds plus 11 points and seven assists. 

Ainge scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer to extend the lead to 11 with 3:25 to play.

Jordan scored 41, becoming the first player to score at least 40 points in four consecutive NBA Finals games. This would turn out to be Jordan’s final game at Chicago Stadium as he would retire following the season and by the time he returned in 1995, the Bulls played their home games at the United Center.

The Suns won two of three in Chicago and sent the series back to Phoenix despite dropping the first two games at home. The opportunity remained for the Suns to win two straight in front of a raucous America West Arena crowd and capture the franchise’s first NBA championship. There was no margin for error, but the Suns were 5-0 when facing elimination during their 1993 playoff run.

NBA Finals Game 6 vs. Chicago. Sunday, June 20, 1993

The Suns trailed 87-79 entering the fourth quarter in the must-win Game 6, but just as they had shown throughout the playoffs, they weren’t ready to lay down quite yet.

They revved up defensively and clamped down on the Bulls, holding them scoreless for the first 6:09 of the fourth quarter and forcing three shot-clock violations in the final period. The Suns showed off their resiliency as they battled back and took a 98-94 lead. 

“We never could get a hold of this team,” Phil Jackson said. “They always found a way to squiggle out whenever we got a lead, and in the fourth quarter their defense really gave us trouble.”

Jordan rebounded a miss and took it the length of the floor for a layup with 38 seconds remaining to make it 98-96, giving him all nine of the Bull’s fourth quarter points at the time. The Suns were unable to get a good look on the ensuing possession, getting a shot-clock violation of their own after Majerle’s corner jumper missed everything.

This set up Paxson’s heroics as Jordan passed ahead to Scottie Pippen, who got a step on Barkley and drove to the basket. Pippen then forward the ball to Horace Grant who kicked it out to a wide-open Paxson. 

Since '68: Paxson's Shot

Paxson drained the open look from the left wing, giving the Bulls a 99-98 lead with 3.9 seconds remaining. The Suns had a last chance but Kevin Johnson’s running 15-footer was blocked by Horace Grant and the season was over.     

The Suns had the lead late and were on the cusp of forcing a winner-take-all Game 7, but John Paxson delivered the historic and heartbreaking three-pointer to give the Bulls their third straight title with a 4-2 series win.

At the time, the Bulls’ 12 fourth-quarter points were the fewest ever in the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals Game, but were just enough as they claimed the 99-98 victory.

Barkley, Majerle and KJ again paced the Suns’ attack. Barkley recorded 21 points and 17 rebounds while Majerle scored 21 with 8 rebounds. Kevin Johnson posted a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists. 

Tom Chambers scored 12 points off the bench in what would be his final game with the Suns. 

Jordan averaged 41.0 points in six games against the Suns, still an NBA record for highest scoring average in a Finals series. 

“I played as well as I could play, and Michael just outplayed me,” Barkley recalled in ESPN’s The Last Dance. “That was probably the first time in my life that I felt like there was a better basketball player in the world than me, to be honest with you.”  

The Suns couldn’t have come much closer to the title. For the series the aggregate score was identical: 640 points for the Bulls, 640 points for the Suns. This remains the only NBA Finals series where both teams totaled the exact same amount of points. 

Coming close only amplified the sting of the loss and the historic season not reaching its dream ending. 

“I think that’s the thing that hurts more than anything,” Barkley said after Game 6. “We have been at this for eight months. Now, it’s over, just like that.” 

The franchise record 62 wins, the first MVP award in team history, the Western Conference title, homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals – over, just like that. 

Despite the heartbreaking ending to the story, Phoenix wanted to show their appreciation for the team that expanded the fan base and captured the hearts of so many throughout the Valley. The following week, Suns fans, new and old, showed how much Arizona’s original sports team meant to them, despite the 100-plus degree heat…

Join us on a trip down memory lane, as Suns.com takes a look back at the team’s miraculous 1993 playoff run. Next Monday will be the final recap as the Suns historic NBA Finals journey comes to a close.