In the 75 years since the NBA was founded as the Basketball Association of America, there have been just eight games in the NBA playoffs that have gone to triple overtime. Two of those actually went four overtimes, the first being an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals in 1953, and the second being a Western Conference semifinal battle between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets in 2019. Of the remaining six, only two took place in the NBA Finals and the Phoenix Suns, who are back in the title series for the first time in 28 years, actually took part in both.
2021 marks just the third time the Phoenix Suns have reached the title series
Founded in 1968, the Phoenix Suns have made 30 appearances in the NBA playoffs. In those 30 appearances, the Suns have reached the Western Conference Finals on 10 occasions but have reached the NBA Finals just three times.
In 1975-76, the Suns went 42-40 to earn the No. 3 seed in the West and then knocked off the Seattle Supersonics in six games and the Golden State Warriors in seven to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, where they matched up with the Boston Celtics.
In 1992-93, led by NBA MVP Charles Barkley, Phoenix had the best record in the NBA at 62-20. After surviving a first-round series scare against the Lakers in which they went down 0-2 before winning the next three, the Suns then defeated the San Antonio Spurs in six and the Sonics in seven to set up a battle with Michael Jordan and the two-time defending champion Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
And, of course, there’s the 2020-21 season in which the Suns made their first postseason appearance in 11 years, going 51-21 to earn the No. 2 seed in the West. Phoenix took out LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the defending champion LA Lakers in six games in the first round, then swept the Denver Nuggets in the semis, and knocked off the LA Clippers in six in the Western Conference Finals, setting up an NBA Finals showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.
It remains to be seen if we’ll get a triple-overtime game in the 2021 Finals but the Suns went 63 minutes one time each in their previous two appearances.
Some call Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals between Phoenix and Boston the greatest game ever played
The Suns and Celtics came into Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals tied at two games apiece as each had held serve on their home floor. As the series was a 2-2-1-1-1 format, the Celtics hosted the pivotal matchup as they were the higher seed, and fans at the Boston Garden witnessed what some call the greatest game ever played…and not just in the NBA Finals.
Boston got off to a hot start and led by 18 after the first quarter. But the Suns kept fighting and found themselves right in the mix as regulation came to an end, erasing a five-point deficit in the final minute to send the game into overtime. Phoenix actually should have gotten the chance to win the game as Celtics forward Paul Silas attempted to call timeout near the end of regulation, a timeout Boston didn’t have. One of the referees appeared to have seen the attempt but didn’t grant it. As any Michigan Wolverines fan knows, calling a timeout when you don’t have any results in a technical foul, which would have given the Suns a chance to win the game at the foul line.
The two teams each scored six points in the first overtime, sending the game to a second overtime with the score tied at 101-101. And here’s where things really got nuts. With 20 seconds remaining, the Celtics held a 109-106 lead. The Suns had possession of the ball and had just taken their final timeout.
A corner jumper from Dick Van Arsdale cut the Boston lead to 109-108 and as the Celtics inbounded the ball on the ensuing possession, Paul Westphal knocked the ball away from John Havlicek and saved the ball from going out of bounds by throwing it to Van Arsdale, who then passed it to Curtis Perry, who missed an 18-footer. Havlicek went for the rebounds but couldn’t control the ball and ended up knocking it right back to Perry, who then drained a 15-footer to give Phoenix a 110-109 lead with six seconds to play.
But Havlicek came back and hit a running one-hander off the glass as the buzzer sounded, seemingly giving the Celtics a 111-110 win as Boston fans rushed the floor. However, it was determined that one second should be put back on the clock. Once the floor was cleared, Phoenix faced the tough task of having to go the length of the floor but Westphal smartly called timeout, one the Suns didn’t have. Yes, it gave Boston a free throw with the technical, which Jo Jo White to give Boston a 112-110 lead, but what the timeout did was give Phoenix the ball at midcourt. Perry inbounded to Gar Heard, who then made a dramatic turnaround jumper from the top of the key to tie the game at 112-112 as time expired.
The third overtime wasn’t quite as dramatic but it was still exciting nonetheless. Boston led by as many as six, held on for a two-point victory, 128-126, and then went on to win Game 6 in Phoenix to win the series.
The Suns survived 44 points from Michael Jordan to win Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals in triple overtime
While Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals was certainly much more dramatic, Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns, who were coached by none other than Paul Westphal, and the Chicago Bulls was certainly great in its own right.
After dropping the first two games of the series at home, the Suns had to have Game 3 in Chicago to give themselves any kind of a chance to capture the franchise’s first NBA title. There was no big deficit for either team to fight back from this time around as the game was tight throughout. At the end of the first quarter, the game was tied 29-29. At the half, Phoenix held a 58-57 advantage. After 36 minutes, the Suns maintained the same one-point lead, 86-85. And at the end of 48 minutes, the game was tied 103-103.
Neither team could hit a shot in the first overtime as the Suns and Bulls combined to score just eight points. Things were slightly better in the second extra period as each team scored seven points, sending the game into a third overtime with the score tied 114-114. But while Chicago continued to struggle in the third OT, again scoring just seven points, Phoenix did not as they reeled off 15 points to take a 129-121 victory. Dan Majerle was one of six Suns to score in double figures that night, leading the team with 28 points with Kevin Johnson adding 25 and Charles Barkley scoring 24.
Michael Jordan scored 44 for the Bulls, who went on to win the series in six games.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference