Remember the warm, fuzzy feeling when Devin Booker scored 70 points in a game last month? Imagine a Suns player breaking a franchise record for points in a game during a 50+ win, Western Conference finalist season, and winning the game as well. That’s what happened when Tom Chambers torched the Seattle SuperSonics for 60 points on March 24, 1990 in a 121-95 win.
1989-90 Suns Profile
This was one of the greatest Suns teams of all time. Lacking the superstar quality of the Charles Barkley teams and Steve Nash’s “Seven Seconds or Less” juggernaut, the 89-90 Suns featured explosive scorers at the top end of the roster with Chambers and Kevin Johnson.
KJ was only 23 to start the season but already a beast of a player, averaging 22.5 points and 11.4 assists per game. Chambers averaged a robust, career high 27.2 PPG to lead a high octane Suns squad.
Excellent role players Jeff Hornacek, Mark West, Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle, and a solid bench rounded out a talented, balanced roster led by head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. Finishing his coaching career with 832 wins, Fitzsimmons was no slouch himself, a high energy motivator and people manager who inspired the best from his players.
- #3 in O-Rating
- #6 in D-Rating
- Average game score: 114.9-107.8
- 54-28 record
- Made Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Blazers 4-2.
The most remarkable achievement of this team was defeating the Lakers in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. It was wonderful, truly a seminal moment in Phoenix sports history.
My view is that the pre-Barkley, KJ/Chambers/Hornacek/West/EJ Suns are the most underrated, underappreciated squads in franchise history, and they’re certainly among my personal favorites. The “Cotton Express” was a blast for fans: running, gunning and full of lovable personalities. Their lack of a championship is no worse than any other Suns team’s. This 89-90 version was one of the finest of the era, and in team history.
This was the best season in a career which earned Chambers 4 All-Star berths and a spot in the Suns Ring of Honor. He averaged 27.2 points and 7 rebounds per game with a 20.9 PER and 11.2 win shares. In addition to his 60 point game, he notched single game totals of 41, 40, 40, 56, 44 and 41 in 89-90.
At times, he was simply unstoppable: a 6’10” PF who could shoot like a guard from the perimeter. Once he had that outside shot going, he’d use a lethal pump fake to draw his defender in the air, then drive past him to the hoop. Chambers was also fantastic on the fast break, and this Suns team gave him plenty of opportunities there, finishing 7th in the league in pace.
A volume scorer who was never particularly efficient, Chambers’ .579 TS% that season was more than respectable considering the scoring load he carried. His 28% 3-point shooting on only 24-86 wouldn’t qualify him as a stretch big in today’s NBA (Suns rookie Marquese Chriss totaled 72-224 as a 19 year old this season), but the game was different then.
Chambers was the first unrestricted free agent signee in NBA history when the Suns signed him away from the Seattle SuperSonics in the summer of 1988. Fitzsimmons noted at the time:
“I immediately became a better coach when Tom signed.”
Indeed. Funny how that works. In Chambers’ first season in Phoenix, the Suns improved by 27 wins, from 28 to 55. His impact was positively Nash-ian. Where the Suns made him feel wanted in pursuing him as a free agent and deployed him in the most effective way, he felt the Sonics had taken him for granted.
So, what was the team that incited the 60 point explosion from Chambers? His former employers and teammates in Seattle, of course.
The box score is a strange sight to behold. Only three Suns players tallied double figure scoring, with Chambers trailed next by Kenny Battle’s 15 and Eddie Johnson’s 10. Chambers hit 22-32 for the night, 16-18 FTs, and ZERO 3 point attempts. 60 points on 32 FGAs without any 3s is quite a feat.
Not as great a feat as a 20 year old scoring 70 in a game, but Chambers’ achievement is worth remembering. Will Booker’s record last 27 years?
All statistics courtesy BasketballReference.com