On social media sites, Thursdays have turned into Throwback Thursdays. People post old pictures on their Instagram, Twitter or Facebook accounts every Thursday to showcase a special moment from earlier in time. ValleyoftheSuns has decided to join the craze to bring Suns fans some of the most memorable moments (good or bad) in the team’s history.
The Phoenix Suns defeated the Houston Rockets 97-88 last night, so today we bring you back to one of the more famous playoff moments in NBA history.
Date: May 20, 1995
Place: America West Arena
Set-up: It was deja vu all over again from 1994. The Phoenix Suns were playing the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals after winning the first two games in the series only to lose three of the next four. The only difference in 95 was the Suns got to host Game 7 instead of being on the road like the year before.
The Suns got out to a hot start and led 26-13 after one quarter and maintained a 10 point lead at halftime. The third quarter is when the Rockets made their run to get back into the game by outscoring the Suns 40-28 and actually led by two going into the final quarter. The fourth was a back and forth high-scoring affair with both teams combing for 69 points in the quarter. Kevin Johnson was dominating the game for the Suns and finished with a game-high 46 points, but missed a crucial free throw in the final minute. The game was tied at 110 with 20.4 seconds left and Houston had the ball coming off a timeout.
Kiss of death: Kenny Smith took the inbounds pass from in front of the Suns bench and brought it up to mid-court, where he was double teamed by Kevin Johnson and Danny Ainge. Smith threw a cross court pass horizontally to the cross-checker, Robert Horry, who got it over the mid-court line. After a couple dribbles up the court, the cross-checker threw the ball across the floor to a wide-open Mario Elie in the corner of the Rockets bench. After catching the ball and gathering himself, he lifted the three-point shot over a leaping Danny Schayes and sunk the shot with 7.7 seconds left. After hitting the shot, Elie ran down the court to blow the infamous “Kiss of Death” toward the Suns bench. The Rockets won the game 115-114 to move on to the Western Conference Finals.
Aftermath: Just like in 94, the Rockets used the series comeback against the Suns as a springboard to back-to-back championships. The Suns fell short in the playoffs for the third straight year in excruciating fashion and the window of dominance slammed shut. The next season the team traded Dan Majerle and lost several players to injuries for significant portions of the 1995-96 season, such as Johnson and Manning. The Suns ended up firing Paul Westphaul in January of 96 and the team finished the season at 41-41 with a first round loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Ironically enough, Elie finished his playing career with the Suns in 2000-01.