A look back on the 1995 Phoenix Suns: The Playoffs

Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley (Photo by MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images
Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley (Photo by MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images /

The 1995 Phoenix Suns were a talented roster. After a dominant regular season with an offensively dominant roster, their playoff run would prove impactful.

The 1995 Phoenix Suns were a solid offensive roster and one of the best in the league. They would finish  3rd in the Western Conference and would head into the playoffs matched up against the Portland Trail Blazers in round one. The Suns and Blazers had great battles in seasons past, but this Blazers squad was no longer the team that had made it to the finals in 1990 and 1992.

It was really no contest, as Phoenix swept the Blazers 3-0, with no game being closer than a nine-point margin. Barkley went wild against Portland with series averages of 33 points and 13 rebounds a game, and A.C. Green also contributed a double-double for the series with 14 points and 12 rebounds a game.

In the semi-finals, the Houston Rockets awaited. The Rockets had won the championship the season before (eliminating the Suns in seven games in the process) and had swung a big midseason trade at that year’s deadline for longtime Blazers star Clyde Drexler.

The Rockets had taken a while to gel and were underdogs in the 6th seed in the west, but they were a scrappy team with championship experience and a dominant center in Olajuwon. They also had a stable of great three-point shooters in Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Mario Elie, and Robert Horry, and in Drexler, they had a former ALL-NBA player who was just past his prime but still dangerous and he had extra motivation to finally achieve the championship that had always hovered just out of his grasp.

The first two games of the series were controlled by Phoenix. Green made his presence felt on the glass and Barkley was dominant, with 26 points in game one and 30 in game two. He shot better than 55% in both games. The Rockets took game three but then Phoenix won game four, as Kevin Johnson poured in 43, with Barkley adding 26 and Wesley Person scoring 16, while Green chipped in with 14.

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It was at this point where the Suns season slowly fell apart.

The Rockets outlasted Phoenix in game five 103-97, as Olajuwon scored 31 to lead five Rockets in double figures.  Houston then went and handily won game six despite Barkley leading both teams in scoring (34) and rebounding (14).

Game seven was the most painful of all.

Kevin Johnson took over the scoring duties from Barkley and dropped 46 points along with 10 assists. He attacked the basket relentlessly and went to the free-throw line 22 times, going 21 of 22 from the charity stripe.

Barkley added a monstrous double-double with18 points and  23 rebounds despite limping on a sore knee that would need treatment in the 2nd quarter. Danny Ainge also came up huge with 19 points and four three-pointers in what would be the final game of his great career.

Unfortunately, the Rockets were too much to overcome, even while dealing with injuries of their own. Olajuwon and Drexler each scored 29 points, and they had timely contributions from Cassell, Smith, and Pete Chilcutt. Then, with 20 seconds left, another Rocket role player stepped up and for all intents and purposes ended the series.

With 20 seconds left in a tie ball game, the Rockets called time out. Just before that, KJ had been at the line where he missed his only free throw of the game, one that could have given Phoenix a one-point lead. Coming out of the time out, The Suns decided to trap. The Rockets rather easily broke the trap, with the ball finding Mario Elie in the far corner. Danny Schayes was the closest defender to Elie, but he was guarding Olajuwon, which made it a decision of whether to concede a wide-open dunk to Hakeem or let Elie take his chances from deep. Schayes chose the latter.

Elie drained the shot, which was shortly followed by the “kiss of death”.

That shot was essentially the end of both the series and the Barkley era. Barkley, who had contemplated retirement over the past season, groused about it some more but would return for one final year with Phoenix before being traded to…Houston. The Suns wouldn’t get this close to the Finals again for another 10 years.

This season (and many for the Phoenix Suns in the early to mid-’90s) didn’t end the way that Suns fans would hope. Even so, out of this era sprung plenty of deep playoff runs, all-time greats, and all-around Phoenix Suns basketball to look at and enjoy even now. The 1995 Suns were the last of those teams, and although they came up short, they are worthy of remembrance.

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