Charles Barkley almost certainly would have enjoyed having the same physical prowess as Inside the NBA colleague Shaquille O’Neal. However, Chuck more closely resembled the worst part of Shaq during the 1995 NBA Playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets battled it out in the Western Conference semifinals. Barkley had an opportunity to be a hero and bring the Suns one step closer to the NBA Finals, but he curiously struggled at the charity stripe in a game that ended up being the turning point of the series.
Charles Barkley powered the Suns to a 3-1 series lead over the Rockets
The Suns had a terrific season during the 1994-95 campaign and looked every bit the part of NBA Finals contenders.
Paul Westphal’s team won 59 games during the regular season, enough to earn the No. 2 seed in the West. Phoenix made quick work of its first-round opponent, sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers with ease.
It looked as though the Suns would make quick work of the defending champion Houston Rockets as well. Phoenix raced out to a 2-0 series lead, with Barkley scoring an efficient 26 points in Game 1 before pouring in a game-high 30 points in Game 2. After the Rockets won Game 3, the Suns bounced back with a victory in Game 4 behind 46 points from Kevin Johnson.
Phoenix appeared destined to dethrone the Rockets. Houston couldn’t stop Barkley and KJ through the first few games. A.C. Green gave the Suns an enormous boost on the boards. Phoenix also received big bench performances courtesy of Danny Ainge and Wayman Tisdale.
However, the series turned in Game 5, when Barkley suddenly turned into Shaquille O’Neal at the foul line.
Barkley missed multiple late free-throw attempts and disappeared down the stretch in Game 5
The Suns appeared to have a stranglehold on the series early in Game 5. Barkley scored 14 first-half points, and Rockets guard Clyde Drexler proved ineffective because of an untimely bout with the stomach flu.
However, the Rockets hung tough. Houston also benefited from Barkley’s shocking disappearing act.
Chuck was nowhere to be found when the two teams came out from the halftime break. He failed to find a rhythm, scoring just three points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined. Even worse for the Suns, Barkley morphed into Shaq at the charity stripe.
The 1993 NBA MVP, who shot a respectable 73.5% from the foul line for his career, shockingly missed 3-of-4 free throws in the final minutes. He hit just 1-of-6 for the game. Those misses proved vital.
Houston forced the extra period, where it continued to hold Barkley in check and emerged with a stunning victory. The Suns outrebounded the Rockets 68-49 and still managed to fumble the contest away.
Phoenix missed a massive chance to close the series largely because of Barkley’s strange transformation into Shaquille O’Neal at the free-throw line. Soon enough, the Suns lost their grip on the entire series.
Game 5 ended up being a rallying cry for the Rockets as they shocked Barkley and the Suns in seven games
The Suns felt extremely confident about their chances heading into Game 5. But their inability to finish the Rockets off gave Houston confidence.
“A. C. Green said we would never beat them three games in a row,” former Rockets forward Robert Horry said after Game 5, via the Baltimore Sun. “We have confidence now. We were able to win without Clyde, and we’ll have him back in Houston. I think we can get one at home. It’s not over.”
Indeed, the Rockets charged back into the series by winning Game 6 at home. Barkley scored 34 points, but the Rockets shot 56.3% from the field, including 12-of-25 from beyond the arc.
Game 7 came right down to the wire. While the Round Mound of Rebound struggled to score the ball, he pulled down 23 boards and controlled the paint.
However, the Suns ran out of opportunities. The Rockets again shot the ball efficiently, and Mario Elie sealed a remarkable comeback with the famous “Kiss of Death.”
The 1994-95 season marked Barkley’s last great chance to reach the NBA Finals. He made it to the Western Conference Finals upon joining the Rockets for the 1996-97 season, but that team couldn’t overcome a more well-rounded Utah Jazz team.
Perhaps Barkley and the Suns could have made a Finals push if only Chuck didn’t take on Shaq’s free-throw shooting at the worst of times.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.