From buzzer-beating shots to chase down blocks, the NBA playoffs always pack a punch when it comes to high-stakes entertainment. However, the Phoenix Suns are done contributing to this year’s event, and have been for some time.
While the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors continue to trade blows on the game’s grandest stage, the Suns remain at home, with nothing to do but reminisce about the 2021-22 season and dwell on any “what could have been” thoughts pertaining to this past one.
It’s a spot nobody ever wants to find themselves in. Now with countless television stations and media outlets covering the current NBA Finals, there’s also a massive reminder of Phoenix’s failure at every turn.
So while we wait for the storm to pass, why not bury our heads in a Suns history book? In looking back at some of the team’s brighter playoff experiences, Rex Chapman’s buzzer-beating prayer against the Seattle SuperSonics during the 1997 playoffs resembles a pretty solid place to start.
Rex Chapman’s Suns Playoff Buzzer Beater: Setting the Scene
The SuperSonics finished the 1996-97 season with a 57-25 record, good enough for the second seed in the Western Conference. On the other hand, the Suns staggered their way to the regular season finish line, huffing and puffing with a mediocre 40-42 record.
Phoenix finished as the seventh seed in the West, setting up this first-round date with their neighbors to the North.
However, both teams seemed to trade places once the series began. After three games, the Suns jumped up on Seattle 2-1 with a chance to clinch the series in Phoenix. With how each team entered the postseason, a Phoenix win would surely go down as one of the game’s most improbable postseason upsets of all-time.
Rex Chapman’s Suns Playoff Buzzer Beater: The Big Game
The SuperSonics stormed out of the gates in Game 4 like wild bulls. They wanted to reclaim their territory as a dominant team in the West and prove to the Suns that they were indeed the better team.
The Sonics erupted with 36 points in the opening quarter, while Phoenix scored just 26. Seattle then extended their lead in the second quarter, taking a 61-49 lead into halftime.
The third period offered a change in pace though, as Kevin Johnson scored seven points to help chop away at his team’s deficit. Rex Chapman would offer a solid prequel to his eventual historic shot, dropping seven points in the third as well.
When the dust settled, Phoenix trailed by only two points entering the final frame.
Rex Chapman Suns Playoff Buzzer Beater: The Shot
The fourth quarter gave way to an intense battle between these two hard-nosed squads. Both teams were the last two to face off against Michael Jordan’s mighty Chicago Bulls in the Finals. Each team carried a chip on its shoulder, especially the individual players, including Chapman.
The Charlotte Hornets drafted Chapman back in 1988. He played three and a half seasons in Buzz City before the Washington Bullets traded for him midway through the 1991-92 season.
Chapman played for the Bullets until June 1995, when the Miami Heat acquired him. While down in South Beach, Chapman famously trashed talked the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, during Miami’s 113-104 victory on February 23, 1996.
Jordan scored 31 points, but he struggled to slow down Chapman, who offered 39 points along with some choice words.
“Playing against Michael, especially when I came in, was always great,” Chapman said in an interview with FoxSports. He went on:
"“One: I was in Charlotte. He was from Carolina so [University of North] Carolina fans loved him and they also wanted liked crazy for us to beat them. We were also playing them six times a year, and I think that first year we played them twice in the exhibition season. So, I was seeing Black Jesus eight times a year, which was good and bad.“I loved playing against Michael. For one reason, the main reason, was that he hated chasing screens. That was — or kind of became — my thing after awhile. I knew I was going to get open looks all night long. It was just a matter of whether I was going to make them.”"
Chapman joined the Suns after the 1995-96 season. In jumping back to that Game 4 contest vs the SuperSonics, he made arguably the best play of his entire career.
With 4.3 seconds remaining in the game, Phoenix trailed 107-104. Jason Kidd threw the ball into Chapman—the pass was almost overthrown—but Chapman hurled in the rock. Then off of one leg, Chapman fired up a 3-pointer. The ball ripped through the net with 1.9 seconds remaining.
This moment is simply known as “The Shot,” being of the most remarkable makes in NBA playoff history. Unfortunately, this shot from Chapman only sent the Suns into overtime with the Sonics, who went on to win the game.
But regardless, Chapman’s prayer remains one of the most incredible chapters in NBA playoff history. For us Suns fans, it’s always fun to think back on these past moments of triumph—especially during a rough time like this.