As the Phoenix Suns are in the NBA Finals for the first time in nearly three decades, it’s natural to want to look back on the last time they reached the title series, which, of course, was in 1993 when they squared off with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Led by NBA MVP Charles Barkley, the 1992-93 Suns were one of just two teams to hold home-court advantage over the Bulls in their six appearances in the NBA Finals in the ’90s, the other being the 1997-98 Utah Jazz.
Barkley and the Suns had every reason to believe they could keep Jordan and the Bulls from becoming just the third team in NBA history to win three consecutive titles, although they did receive quite a scare in the opening round of the playoffs. However, the Bulls, the second seed in the East, had a scare of their own on the way to the title series. But once the battle between Chicago and Phoenix began, it was clear who the superior team was and Jordan put on the greatest scoring performance in NBA Finals history.
Charles Barkley led the Suns to a 62-20 record and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference
After spending the first eight seasons of his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers, Barkley was traded to Phoenix ahead of the 1992-93 campaign and promptly led the Suns to their first 60-win season in franchise history, going 62-20 to claim the top seed in the Western Conference. Averaging 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and one block per game, Barkley was named NBA MVP for the first and only time of his career, beating out Hakeem Olajuwon and Jordan, who had won the award the previous two seasons.
But it’s not as if Barkley was the only weapon the Suns had as Phoenix had six other players average double figures in points that season — Dan Majerle (16.9), Kevin Johnson (16.1), Richard Dumas (15.8), Cedric Ceballos (12.8), Tom Chambers (12.2), and Danny Ainge (11.8).
As mentioned the Suns had a bit of a scare in the first round of the playoffs, going down 0-2 to the eighth-seeded Lakers before winning the next three. They then knocked off the fifth-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the conference semis and survived a tough seven-game battle with the Seattle Supersonics in the Western Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1976.
Michael Jordan won his seventh consecutive scoring title in leading the Chicago Bulls to their third straight NBA Finals
Coming off back-to-back titles, the Bulls began the 1992-93 season hoping to become just the third franchise in NBA history to win three consecutive championships, the Lakers and Celtics being the other two. Chicago failed to win 60 games for the first time in three years but still had a solid season, going 57-25 to earn the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Knicks.
Averaging 32.6 points, Jordan led the NBA in scoring for the seventh consecutive season and also led the league in steals for the third time with 2.8 per game. MJ was one of four Bulls to average double digits in points for the year, the other three being Scottie Pippen (18.6), Horace Grant (13.2), and B.J. Armstrong (12.3), who had replaced John Paxson as the Bulls’ starting point guard.
After cruising through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping both the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, Jordan & Co. ran into a bit of trouble in the Eastern Conference Finals as they dropped the first two games to the Knicks. But just as the Suns had done, they dug themselves out of the hole and swept the remainder of the series to reach their third consecutive NBA Finals.
Jordan set a pair of NBA Finals records as the Bulls knocked off the Suns in six
Despite having the home-court advantage, the Suns dropped the first two games of the ’93 NBA Finals to the Bulls in Phoenix. Behind 31 points from Jordan, Chicago never trailed in Game 1 and held off numerous Suns rallies on the way to a 100-92 victory. Game 2 was much more competitive as Jordan and Barkley engaged in an epic duel, each scoring 42 points, but Chicago had just enough to win by three, 111-108.
Game 3 in Chicago was another instant classic and was just the second triple-overtime game in NBA Finals history, the other being Game 5 of the ’76 Finals between the Suns and Boston Celtics. Despite 44 points from Jordan, Phoenix was able to take control in the third extra period and went on to a 129-121 victory behind 24 points and 19 rebounds from Barkley, 28 points and seven assists from Majerle, and 25 points and nine assists from Johnson.
Barkley put forth another solid effort in Game 4, posting 32 points and 12 rebounds, but had to watch in awe with the rest of us as Jordan scored 55 points (tied for the second-most in a single NBA Finals game) in a 111-105 victory with Grant adding 17 points and 16 rebounds. MJ put up 41 in Game 5 but it wasn’t enough as the Suns took a 10-point victory, 108-98, behind 25 points each from Johnson and Dumas to send the series back to Phoenix.
Leading by eight heading into the fourth quarter of Game 6, the Bulls struggled in the final period, scoring just seven points in the first 11 minutes, all by Jordan. Trailing 98-94, MJ drove the length of the court off a rebound and scored a layup to cut the Suns’ lead to two with just over 38 seconds remaining. Phoenix failed to score on the ensuing possession and we all know what happened next.
With 3.9 seconds remaining, Paxson drained a 3-pointer to give Chicago a 99-98 lead, and one Horace Grant block later, the Bulls had clinched their third consecutive title. With 33 points in Game 6, Jordan averaged exactly 41 points in the series, setting a new record for the highest scoring average in a single NBA Finals, a record that still stands to this day. The previous mark was held by Rick Barry, who averaged 40.8 points per game in the 1967 NBA Finals in which his San Francisco Warriors lost to Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
Jordan also became the first person to win NBA Finals MVP three consecutive times and just the second (at the time) to win the award three times overall, the other being Magic Johnson. Five players have now won NBA Finals MVP at least three times with Jordan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal being the only players to win it three years in a row.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference