Tip-Off to Phoenix Suns Historic Journey to the 1993 NBA Finals

Charles Barkley 1993 NBA Playoffs

Throughout all decades and all sports, few teams have meant more to The Valley over the years than the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns. A defining moment for Arizona sports, the Suns brought the Valley to life and treated Phoenix sports fans to a historic journey through the playoffs and into the 1993 NBA Finals. 

The season marked a year of many first for the franchise, including the inaugural season at Talking Stick Resort Arena, then known as America West Arena. The Suns were donning new uniforms as they took the court wearing one of the most iconic jerseys in basketball history with the sunburst across their chest.

In addition to fresh threads and a brand new venue, the Suns also had a new superstar in town. The team swunga trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to acquire then-six-time All-Star Charles Barkley, as Sir Charles joined an already loaded roster that had won at least 53 games in four straight seasons. 

The Suns had recently made two trips to the Western Conference Finals in the late 1980’s, but desired to take it to another level. Barkley joined NBA All-Stars Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and Tom Chambers, mainstay Mark West and rising star Cedric Ceballos on an upstart Phoenix squad. During the 1992 offseason, the team also added two-time NBA Champion Danny Ainge, plus rookies Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas along with veterans Frank Johnson and Tim Kempton. Negele Knick and Jerrod Mustaf rounded out the Suns roster, and Phoenix suddenly had one of the deepest rosters in the entire NBA.

Paul Westphal was a star for the Suns in the 1970’s and helped lead the “Sunderella Suns” to their first-ever NBA Finals appearance in 1976. After serving as an Assistant Coach under Cotton Fitzsimmons over the previous few years, Westphal took the reins as Suns head coach prior to the 1992-93 campaign and aimed to to bring Phoenix back to the Finals once again.

Following a dramatic final month of the regular season, the Suns finished with a franchise-best 62 wins. season. The team appeared primed for the postseason by showing an ability to make winning plays during crucial moments in last-minute victories in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. 

April 6, 1993: The Suns defeated the Lakers 115-114 at home as Thunder Dan made a 40-footer at the buzzer before jumping over the scorer’s table to celebrate the Suns’ victory with fans.

April 9, 1993: Ainge hit a jumper with :02.9 left in the game to give the Suns a 98-97 win against Denver. This was their 58th win of the season which established a new team record for most wins in a single regular season, surpassing the previous mark of 57 victories set by the 1980-81 squad. 

April 11, 1993: The Suns clinched the top seed in the Western Conference with a 112-99 win vs. Utah in their 11th consecutive win, securing possession of the conference’s number one seed for just the second time in team history (1980-81).With the victory over the Jazz, the Suns also clinched the second of their five Pacific Division titles and first since 1980-81. The 11-game winning streak tied for the Suns’ second-longest in team history at the time, trailing only the 14-game winning streak from earlier in 1992-93 when they went a pristine 14-0 in the month of December.

April 14, 1993: The Suns beat the Timberwolves 98-84 to improve to 60-16 for the season, securing the first 60-win season in team history, a milestone they would reach again in 2004-05 and 2006-07.

April 16, 1993: Despite a 108-102 loss against Seattle, the Suns clinched homecourt advantage throughout the NBA Playoffs as the New York Knicks, who would earn the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, dropped a game in Indiana. This marked the first time in Suns history they recorded the league’s best record and held homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, a feat the 2004-05 team later achieved as well.

April 22, 1993: The Suns won 115-114 on a buzzer-beater for the second time that month. Westphal drew up the perfect play with :00.5 left as Oliver Miller’s inbounds pass purposefully bounced off the backboard to set up Barkley for the game-winner at Portland. 

April 24, 1993: The Suns played their regular-season home finale and tallied their 62nd win of the season with a 99-97 victory over San Antonio, despite Barkley being ejected in the first half. Ainge knocked down a jumper with :12.6 left to give the Suns the lead, and they made the defensive stops necessary to secure the win. The 62 wins remains tied for the most wins in a regular season in Suns history, only matched by the 2004-05 team. 

April 25, 1993: The NBA wrapped up the regular season. In addition to posting the league’s best record for the first time in team history, the Suns led the NBA with 113.4 points per game and set a franchise record with with an Offensive Rating of 113.3 points per 100 possessions,. The Suns led the league in True Shooting Percentage (56.6%) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (52.1%), and averaged more three-pointers made (4.9) and attempted (13.4) than any other team in the league as their 398 made three-pointers for the season set an NBA record at the time. The Suns also ranked in the league’s top 10 with a Defensive Rating of 106.7 points allowed per 100 possessions.

Following a three-day minicap up north in Prescott, the top-seeded Suns  were confident heading into a first-round matchup against the number eight seeded Los Angeles Lakers after sweeping their rivals 5-0 during the regular season. The Lakers went 39-43 in 1992-93, their first season under .500 in 17 years, but still featured several players with championship pedigree as James Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green owned a combined eight rings between them. The balanced Lakers entered the playoffs with five players averaging between 12 and 16 points (Sedale Threatt, Worthy, Scott, Green, Vlade Divac). 

The Suns held the best record in the league as the 1993 NBA’s Most Valuable Player, Barkley, led them into the playoffs against their division rivals. The Suns had all the odds pointing in their favor, but one of the most storied franchises in all of sports in the Lakers weren’t to be overlooked.

Western Conference First Round Game 1 vs. L.A. Lakers, Friday, April 30, 1993:

The Suns were without Kevin Johnson due to a strained knee in the first playoff game at America West Arena, but still looked poised to clinch Game 1 of the postseason.

Despite leading early, the Suns went cold in the first half. The Lakers turned a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead in the second stanza as they outscored the Suns 25-13 in the period, shooting 13-of-22 from the field while holding the Suns to just 6-of-21. The Lakers took a 53-46 lead at halftime, but the Suns weren’t out of it just yet.

After storming out of the gates in the third quarter, the Suns got back on track in the second half and found themselves up by five with just under three minutes remaining in the game.

The Lakers had a different plan, though. They left Phoenix fans stunned as they held the Suns scoreless for the game’s final 2:41. Byron Scott gave the Lakers a one-point advantage at the free throw line with 29 seconds remaining and following three missed shots from the Suns (one from Ainge, two from Majerle), the Lakers stole homecourt advantage with a 107-103 victory in Phoenix.

In his first playoff game with the Suns, Charles Barkley posted team highs with 34 points on 12-of-16 shooting, 15 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in addition to four assists. Tom Chambers finished second behind Barkley in scoring with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting while grabbing five rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.

Sedale Threatt caught fire for the Lakers, scoring 35 points on 17-of-24 shooting. To this day, in the Lakers’ rich playoff history, only Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich have made more field goals on at least 70% shooting in a postseason game. 

“We’d try, try, try, and nothing would go our way. Give them credit. They came in here when nothing was expected of them and got the job done,” said Majerle via The Arizona Republic.

Western Conference First Round Game 2 vs. L.A. Lakers, Sunday, May 2, 1993:

The Suns needed to get back on track for Game 2 to prevent not only losing all home court advantage, but the series as a whole, as first round playoff matchups were best-of-five affairs at the time.

After leading the NBA in scoring with 113.4 points per game in the regular season, the Lakers defense seemed to be finding a way to slow the Suns’ lethal offense to a halt. Much like the Lakers’ 9-0 run to end Game 1, they finished off Game 2 on a 14-3 run after trailing 78-72 with just under 6 minutes remaining. 

The Lakers held the Suns to just 11 points on 4-of-21 shooting in the fourth quarter and just three points over the final 5:56 as Vlade Divac gave the Lakers the lead 82-80 on a jump hook in the final two minutes.

The best offensive team in the league was held to just 81 points, their fewest points in any game, regular season or playoffs, in over six years. This was the fewest amount of points scored in any home game since the Suns scored just 80 points in Game 6 of the 1976 NBA Finals.

The Suns dropped to 0-2 and on the brink of elimination with the Lakers 86-81 victory.

Barkley tied for the Suns’ team-high with 18 points and grabbed 21 rebounds, tying Paul Silas and Mark West for a Suns playoff record. Kevin Johnson returned after missing Game 1 and posted a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 16 assists. 

Richard Dumas replaced Cedric Ceballos in the starting lineup from Game 1 and answered with a team-high-tying 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Tom Chambers scored 18 points off the bench for the second straight game, tying Barkley and Dumas for the team high.

Vlade Divac led the Lakers with 19 points and tied for the team-lead with 13 rebounds and three blocks, also dishing out six assists. 

“Everyone expected us to win three-straight anyway, so we’ll just win the last three instead of the first three,” Majerle via The Arizona Republic

In order to advance, the Suns, who had already made so much team history in 1992-93, would be required to make NBA history and become the first team to come back from an 0-2 start on their home floor to win a best-of-five series. The Lakers had already become the first number eight seed ever to take a 2-0 series lead over a number one seed and had a chance to knock off the best team in the NBA, but now it was the Suns’ turn to make history.

Westphal remained confident after Sunday’s Game 2 and delivered one of the most spirited proclamations in team history: “So we’re down 0-2 and I know the next question is, ‘Are you guys dead?’ No. We’re going to win the series. We’re going to win one Tuesday. The next game is Thursday, we’ll win there. Then we’ll come back and we’ll win the series on Sunday. And everyone will say what a great series it was.”

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.


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