The Suns and the NBA playoffs have had a complicated relationship as of late. That relationship mirrors my personal relationship with Scarlett Johansson. There is none.
A decade of mediocrity and playoff-less basketball can create smoke screens when looking into the past. I was born in 1982 and my first memories of NBA basketball are from the ’87-’88 season. Using that as a point of reference, kids born in 2005 have no recollection of the Suns in the playoffs. Ever. Those kids will be driving soon!
Believe it or not, the Suns were once mainstays in the post-season. From the time they made a run to their first NBA Finals (’75-’76) to their last playoff appearance (’09-’10), the Suns appeared in the playoffs 28 times. Out of 35 seasons. Post-season basketball in the Valley of the Sun used to be a mainstay.
Many can recall the best Suns’ teams. The Nash-led 2000’s, the mid-90’s team, the Finals team in 1976. Even prior to Charles Barkley coming to town, the KJ-Tom Chambers combo marched to back-to-back Western Conference Finals.
But there are some teams you might not know much about, recall, or even knew existed. The Suns JAM Session podcast is revisiting some of the lesser known seasons in Suns history. Why? Because I have the time to do so. Thanks COVID! But it is also to provide a complete story about those seasons.
You can Google “1983-84 Suns” all you want; you won’t get a comprehensive look at the team that year. There is the Basketball-Reference page, a little bit on Wikipedia, and small morsels here and there. Again, there is no complete journal of a team that surprised many.
You can listen to the pod about this squad here, but if you’re a fan of print, I’m writing this to put all of the pieces into one place. Maybe someday someone will be looking for a better look at this Suns’ season, and they’ll find a good chunk about what occurred by visiting Bright Side. So, without further ado...
THE 1983-84 PHOENIX SUNS
Let’s hop into the time machine and go back 36 years. When the season tipped off on Saturday, October 29, 1983, “Islands in the Stream” by the late Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton just hit #1 on the Billboard charts. Never Say Never Again, which saw Sean Connery play 007 for the final time, was killing it at the box office. The best selling car of 1983? The Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Sexy.
The Phoenix Suns, coached by John MacLeod, were coming out of one of the most successful eras in their franchise history to that point, having made six playoff appearances between 1978 and 1983. The ’82-’83 squad posted a 53-29 record that had them 2nd in the Pacific division and gave them the third seed. That put them behind George Gervin’s #2 seeded San Antonio Spurs and Kareem/Magic’s #1 seeded Lakers.
- The Suns and Spurs finished with the same record in ’82-’83.
- They played 5 times that season, and the Suns beat them 3 out of the 5 games.
- But San Antonio won the Midwest division, therefore they received the #2 seed.
- Somehow, some way, San Antonio always wins…
’82-’83 was the last season there were first round byes for the top 2 seeds in each conference. The NBA Playoffs were structured much like the NFL Playoffs currently are now, with 6 teams from each conference earning the right to play in the post-season. The first round was a best-of-three series.
The (3) Suns were tasked with the (6) Nuggets in the first round. Denver beat the Suns 2-1 in the series, led by 20+ points from Kiki Vandeweghe, Alex English, and Danny Issel.
Season over. On to the next one.
That’s who the Suns were entering ’83-’84 campaign.
1983 NBA DRAFT
The Suns had 10 draft picks that season. Why so many? Because back in 1983, in a league with only 23 teams, there were 10 rounds. That is a lot of dudes to draft. I’m sure scouting wasn’t nearly as extensive as it is currently, and by the 9th round teams were probably choosing guys because they liked their name.
Phoenix didn’t have a first round pick, however. Late in the ’82-’83, in an effort to gain some size and depth at the center position (remember, the Western Conference went through Los Angeles, and they had some tall dude named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), they traded 4-year PF Jeff Cook and their 1983 first round pick (plus a third rounder) to Cleveland for C James Edwards and their 1983 first round pick.
The 1983 NBA Draft, which was held on June 28, would have the Suns picking 21st. The night before the draft, however, Suns GM Jerry Colangelo pulled the trigger on a trade to add more size to the team.
Colangelo traded Cleveland's first round pick to Boston in exchange for C Rick Robey. Robey, who was the #3 overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft and a National Champion at the University of Kentucky, had won a title with the Celtics in 1981. He was the backup to Robert Parrsh in Boston, averaging 4.3 points in ’82-’83.
The key here? The Suns also gave up G Dennis Johnson. Johnson was 4th on the team in scoring the previous year and led the team in assists. He also had been named to the league’s All-Defensive team five out of his seven years in the NBA. DJ was a tough nosed defender who was the 1979 NBA Finals MVP. and here was headed to the Celtics.
Dennis Johnson would be the missing piece the Celtics needed, and he’d go on to be an All-Star in ’84 and win two titles in the next three years with Larry Bird and the Celtics. Rick Robey would start 5 games in three years for the Suns, average 4.7 points per game, and retire. Bleacher Report has the trade ranked #27 on their ‘Most Lopsided Trades in NBA History’.
The Suns first draft pick was in the second round with the 28th overall pick. They chose Rod Foster, PG, from UCLA. Giving up Dennis Johnson left a void at the distributor position, and Foster had the talent. He was the starting freshman PG on the 1980 Bruins team that lost in the National Championship Game to Louisville (all victories were later voided due to infractions including financial arrangements and giving a recruit a shirt. A shirt!).
His per 36 numbers as a pro would be turn out to be decent, but he is ranked #9 on Bleacher Report’s Top 10 Bruin Stars Who Were Huge Disappointments in the NBA. He would play 3 season in Phoenix before being out of the NBA.
Three picks later the Hawks took Doc Rivers.
The Suns would draft 9 other players in the 1983 NBA Draft. Paul Williams from ASU, Derek Whittenburg from NC State, Sam Mosley from Nevada. What would every other player drafted that year by the Suns have in common? 0 minutes ever played in the NBA.
It’s justifiable that the draft wasn’t where the Suns were looking to grow. The team was 3rd in the Western Conference the previous year. They shouldn’t have been building in the draft, they should have been solidifying the team to make a run deep into the playoffs. The team wanted a sizable front court that could bang bodies with the top teams in the league.
Jerry Colangelo must have felt that giving up Dennis Johnson, which was a move that Suns fans openly criticized, and adding depth at center was the answer to push this team over the top. The early 80’s were a big man’s dream. The game was played within 15 feet of the basket, and although guards were needed, size was king.
Other highlights from the 1983 NBA Draft? Two Hall of Famers were drafted: Ralph Sampson (#1 to Houston) and Clyde Drexler (#14 to Portland).
Why did the Suns so willingly give up on Dennis Johnson? Because the guy they gave up to get him in a 1980 trade, Paul Westphal, was a free agent. Westphal, the fan favorite who led the ’75-’76 Suns to the NBA Finals, had been traded to the Seattle SuperSonics for Dennis Johnson three years earlier. Westphal eventually signed with the Knicks as a free agent, and was waived in June of ’83. On September 27, 1983, Westy was back in Phoenix.
In October of 1983, the team would trade away second year SF David Thirdkill (um...great name?) to the Pistons for a couple of future draft picks. One of those picks turned into Jeff Hornacek.
December saw the Suns waived Johnny ‘Sky’ High (who died in June of 1987 when his sports car hit a traffic pole at 20th St and Jefferson. He was legally drunk at the time). They then signed Rod Foster’s college teammate, G/F Mike Sanders.
THE ’83-’84 ROSTER
On opening night, October 29, 1983, here were the Suns starting five:
PG: Kyle Macy
Macy was a 4th year point guard who had displayed promise. He was a solid start, technically sound, but not overly athletic. He would start 45 games on the year, playing in all 82, average 10.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, and shoot 83% from the line. He led the team in three-pointers made...with 23.
SG: Walter Davis
‘The Man with the Velvet Touch’ was entering his 7th season and had missed the previous two All-Star Games (after making four in his first four seasons). The Greyhound would average over 20.0 ppg for the first time since ’79-’80 and add a career high 5.5 apg (which led the team) en route to an All-Sta appearance. He finished 4th in the NBA with 86.3% from the line.
SF: Maurice Lucas
“Mo” Lucas was also in his 7th NBA season, although he played in the ABA prior. Known as the “Enforcer”, Lucas had joined the NBA in the 1976 ABA dispersal draft. He was the leading scorer on the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers team that won the NBA Finals.
Lucas was a 4-time All-Star (once with the Suns, in ’82-’83) would lead the team in rebounds (9.7 rpg).
PF: Larry Nance
Nance was an exciting player who was in his 3rd year from Clemson. He progressed more and more each year, and appeared to be a steal after going 20th overall in the 1980 NBA Draft. His length and athleticism led to some pretty fantastic dunks.
Nance would be 4th in the NBA in blocks (174), lead the team in games started (all 82), and was the second leading scorer (17.7 ppg).
C: Alvan Adams
The Oklahoma Kid got the nod on opening night, but only started 13 of the 70 games he appeared in on the year. The ’75-’76 Rookie of the Year (and eventual Suns Ring of Honor inductee) didn’t have his best year statistically, “Double A” was steady as per usual, though. The Suns career leader in games and minutes played averaged 9.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg.
The rest of the Suns roster:
G: Rod Foster
On nights in which Kyle Macy wasn’t available, the rookie got his chances. He started 34 of the 80 games he played in, averaging 10.2 ppg in those starts.
G: Paul Westphal
33 year-old Westy would only start 2 games in the ’83-’84 campaign, contributing 7.0 ppg in this 59 total appearances. He was no longer the All-Star he once was, but he provided guidance to the younger players. This would be his last season playing in the NBA.
G/F: Mike Sanders
The 6’6” small forward signed as a free agent in December after being waived by the Spurs. He was in his second year out of UCLA and would play in 50 games for the Suns, adding 4.5 ppg and 2.1 rpg.
F: Alvin Scott
The Suns drafted Scott with the 136th pick in the 1977 NBA Draft (the same draft in which they drafted Walter Davis), and he was a steady role player for his entire career (all 8 with the Suns). ’83-’84 saw his lowest appearances in a season (65) as well as his lowest point production (2.6 ppg). He was at the back end of his career, but the 6’7” small forward had one sick ‘fro.
F: Charles Pittman
The second year 6’8” forward from the University of Maryland tallied 8 starts and 69 appearances.
C: James ‘Buddha’ Edwards
Although Alvin Adams got the opening day start, the 7’1” Edwards would start 67 games in the ’83-’84 season, averaging 14.7 ppg and 4.8 rpg. He rocked the Fu Manchu ‘stache like a boss, and due to his durability, he played in the NBA for 19 years. He is 50th in NBA history with 1,168 games played and 12th in personal fouls (4,042).
C: Rick Robey
The 6’11’ Robey, who Suns fans resented at the beginning of the season, clearly wasn’t as productive as Dennis Johnson. He did have a tough side, and fans grew to love him by the end of the season. He made 4 starts and 64 bench appearances and added 5.6 ppg and 3.2 rpg. He would retire two seasons later.
What made this team a challenge for the opposition wasn’t necessarily it’s talent. It was it’s depth. John MacLeod had a plethora of players to call upon, allowing him versatility, the ability to survive injuries, and interchange finesse and physical lineups.
REGULAR SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
The Suns lost opening night in Dallas 120-103, and so began the most average season is Suns history. The team recorded 8 one-game losing streaks and 8 one-game winning streaks. They had 3 losing streaks of 2 games, and they had 3 winning streaks of 2 games. The put together losing streaks of 4 games twice during the season. You guessed it, they twice had winning streaks of 4 games as well.
The Suns went 41-41 in ’83-’84, the first time they ended .500 in team history. They would do so again in ’96-’96 and the shortened ’11-’12 season.
They would be a fantastic watch at the Madhouse on McDowell, as they went 31-10 at home. Conversely, the team was abysmal on the road, posting a 10-31 record.
A Rough Start
The team came out of the gate sputtering, going 6-14 in their first 20 contests. Alvan Adams started 11 of those games (the Suns lost 8) and it was clear that a change at center was needed. It wasn’t easy to put Adams on the bench, but as James Edwards found his footing, the team started to realize Colangelo’s “dominate the interior” vision.
Happy New Year
Games 21-30 saw the Suns go 8-2 and push their record to 14-16. The team found themselves riding somewhat high to begin 1984. From December 29, 1983 to January 2, 1984, the team maintained it’s highest seeding in the Western Conference at #4.
The 1984 Playoffs would be the first year that 8 teams per conference would make the playoffs, so sitting at #4 as the ball fell in Times Square must’ve been a good feeling.
The team was heading towards to playoffs once again.
How Did They Respond?
Hey, it’s still the Suns you know!
They reach #4 in the West, so what do they do? Go on their worst losing streak of the season. Phoenix lost five games from January 3 to January 10, and fell back into 9th place.
The team was 15-21.
All-Star Game Shenanigans
When the 1984 All-Star Game arrived on January 29, the Suns were 19-24 and in 8th place. The festivities took place in Denver, Colorado, and saw Walter Davis make his return to the game. Davis was averaging 21.2 ppg on 51% from the field at that point in the season.
It was Larry Nance that stole the show though. It the first ever Slam Dunk Contest, which featured names like Dr. Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, and Clyde Drexler. Nance wowed the crowd with his leaping ability and won with a 134 in the finals over Dr. J.
Post All-Star Medocrity
The Suns would continue their consistently inconsistent play after the All-Star Game, going 15-17 from February 1 to March 31. MacLeod continued to experiment with lineups. For four games he had Walter Davis come off the bench, choosing to start Alvin Scott instead. The Suns oddly would go 3-1 in those games with Davis scoring 13.3 ppg (aided by a 27 point performance) as a substitute.
As the season was coming to a close, the Suns were 35-41. A loss on March 31 to the Los Angeles Lakers seems to seal their fate: they would be the #8 seed and have to play against LA in the first round. That is if they could keep the Golden State Warriors, who were 2.5 games back, off of their heels.
An April to Remember
April began for the Suns on the 3rd, as they faced off against Eddie Johnson and the Kansas City Kings. In typical ’83-’84 fashion, the Suns had gone 2-2 against them that year, and this was the rubber match. The Suns win the game by 4, and in doing so, they push themselves into the #7 seed.
The victories keep rolling as they defeat the Seattle SuperSonics at home on the April 6, and when they down the Denver Nuggets on the road on the April 8, they take the #6 seed. From who? Denver.
With 3 games to go, they are 3 games under .500. The team kills the Blazers, narrowly defeats the Mavericks by 1, and have the Lakers for the last game of the year.
Paul Westphal, in his final regular season game, is granted the start by MacLeod over Walter Davis. At this point it is clear the Suns will enter the playoffs with the #6 seed. The Lakers sit Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and play Magic only 13 minutes. The result? Suns 123, Lakers 114.
The team went 6-0 to end the year. It was their longest winning streak of the year.
THE PLAYOFF RUN
Suns vs. Blazers
The first round series would see the Suns travel to the City of Roses on April 18, 1984. The Blazers, who the Suns had defeated in the first round of the 1979 playoffs, had beat the Suns 4 out of 5 times during the regular season. They finished the regular season with a record of 48-34, and much like the Suns the year before, were granted the #3 seed even though they had a better record than the Midwest Division Champion Utah Jazz.
They had names like Darnell Valentine, Mychal Thompson, Calvin Natt, and Jim Paxson on their team. Paxson had earned All-NBA 2nd Team honors for his efforts in leading the team in scoring with 21.3 ppg.
Their first round pick, Clyde Drexler, had started only 3 games during the regular season.
Game 1 was a surprise for Portland, as the Suns would pull of the upset with a 113-106 victory. Walter Davis’ 22 points and 13 assists, coupled with James Edwards’ 23 points on 10 for 14 shooting, confounded Portland. The Suns bench outscored Portland 25-9, shot 59% from the field, and assisted on 71% of their field goals.
Game 2 went to the Blazers, 122-116, as Paxson and Thompson combined for 53 points. The Suns trailed by 20 entering the 4th quarter, fought back, but ultimately came up short.
The series shifted to Phoenix for Game 3, and in front of a home crowd, the Suns pulled off the upset, winning 106-103. They were down 7 to begin the 4th, but outscored the Blazers by 10 to earn the win. After an 11 point performance Game 2 off the bench, John MacLeod chose to start Kyle Macy in this game over Paul Westphal. Westy responded with 14 points in 13 minutes. Both he and Mike Sanders forced the issue, both going 6-6 from the line.
Just like to Suns regular season, .500 was how the series was playing out. You win, I win, you win, I win. And every game was close. Portland won a tightly contested Game 4, 113-110.
The series finale took place on April 26, 1984 in Portland. The Suns outscored Portland by 10 points in the first, and Portland responded by outscoring Phoenix by 10 in the second. The Suns began to pull away in the second half as they held Portland to 40% shooting. Walter Davis had 29 points and 10 assists, ‘Mo’ Lucas had 19 points and 12 boards, and all Suns’ starters scored at least 14 points.
The Suns defeat the Trail Blazers 117-105. The upset was complete.
Walter Davis had himself a series, posting 26.4 ppg, 8.6 apg, and accounting for 23% of the Suns scoring.
Portland, who had the rights to Indiana’s pick the next season, would go on to draft Sam Bowie #2 overall, rather than Michael Jeffery Jordan.
Suns vs. Jazz
The (2) Jazz were coming off of a 3-2 victory themselves, having beat the (7) Denver Nuggets in five games. Utah had finished the regular season 45-37, and just like Portland, had posted a 4-1 regular season record against the Phoenix Suns.
They were led by 6’5” small forward scoring stud Adrian Dantley, who won the ’83-’84 Comeback Player of the Year award. He was also the league leader in points-per-game at 30.6, named to the All-NBA 2nd Team, was an All-Star game starter, and came in 7th in MVP voting. Yeah, the dude was good.
Coach Frank Layden was the NBA Coach of the Year recipient, having improving Utah’s record by 15 games year-over-year. Layden was starting 7’4” center Mark Eaton. If you’re not bored by the 5,000+ words that this article is, look Eaton up. Quite an interesting story. Eaton is the kind of guy Colangelo built his Suns roster to attack. Jerry wanted physicality down low, and loaded the roster with those players. This was their chance to try to shut the big guy down, harass Dantley, and upset Utah.
Adrian Dantley was no easy task, as he dropped 36 in a Game 1 victory (105-95). The Jazz shot 60% from the field to the Suns’ 41%, but more importantly, they beat Phoenix up on the boards, 51-35.
The Suns would change their strategy for Game 2, opting to begin fouling Dantley with more frequency. He would get his points, but he would have to earn them. Big performances from Maurice Lucas (17 points and 15 boards), Larry Nance (16 points and 8 boards, and Walter Davis (28 points, 6 boards, 6 assists) pushed the Suns to a 102-97 victory.
The Phoenix physicality would continue on Game 3. Dantley would get his 31 points, but the rest of the team saw little production. Add 30 from Davis, stir in 22 and 14 from Lucas, sprinkle in 22 from Nance, and you have the recipe for the Suns to take a 2-1 series lead with a 106-94 win.
Game 4 of the 1984 Western Conference Semifinals is probably the best Suns game you’ve never watched. The May 6, 1984 CBS broadcast is fantastic, with aerial shots of Phoenix in the 1980’s, foldable chairs at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the First Interstate Bank logo on the scorers table, and an ending for the ages.
What is at stake? It’s either 2-2 headed back to Utah or 3-1.
Adrian Dantley scores 37 in Game 4, 15 of which come from the line. It is clear the Phoenix is going to continue to be physical with him, and a young Doug Collins refers to Dantley’s comments on the Suns defense, noting that MacLeod keeps bringing in different guys off the bench to foul him. Sanders, Foster, Scott...they all get their chance at the league’s top scorer.
Adams has a monster game coming off the pine, snagging 15 boards.
The Suns go down 103-100 with :06 left. Walter Davis, who scored 11 points in the fourth, is called upon to try to send the game to OT.
And he does.
It’s the greatest Suns shot I had never seen. He catches the inbound pass, turns, and with a defender draped across him, shoots a fade away three ball. And nets it.
The game goes into overtime. Utah outscores the Suns 7-6 in the period until the final moments. Down 110-109, Kyle Macy misses a jumper, but hustles to get the board, dishes it to Mo Lucas, who forces the issue and draws a foul.
He calmly hits both free throws. Utah misses a layup as time expires, and they Suns go up 3-1. as they pull out the 111-110 win.
Game 5 is back in Utah and the Jazz take it, 118-106, as the Suns have no answer for a pissed off Adrian Dantley. He scores 46 points on 16-27 shooting (14-14 from the line). Rickey Green, who led the league in steals that season, scores 23 and adds 14 assists. Walter Davis has his worst night shooting, going 7-17 from the field.
In 1984, the best-of-seven series format was 2-2-1-1-1, which meant that Game 6 was back in the Valley of the Sun.
The Suns plan to wear Adrian Dantley down finally produced the desired result. He goes 8-22 from the field for his series-low total of 23 points. Phoenix comes out with a balanced attack as six players score in double figures. They out rebound Utah by 12 and win the game by 20.
Suns 102, Jazz 82. Upset complete.
Walter Davis scores 24.7 ppg in this series, and adds 2.7 steals per game. He displays his value once again, this time accounting for 24% of the Suns total scoring attack. Maurcie Lucas added 17 and 10 per game.
On to the Western Conference Finals.
Suns vs. Lakers
Who do the Suns have the honor of playing in the Western Conference Finals? Oh, only the ‘Showtime’ Lakers. This series was referred to as Work Ethic (Suns) vs. Talent (Lakers).
The Lakers, who finished with the top seed in the West, were 54-28 during the regular season. The Suns had success against them in the regular season, however, winning 3 of the 5 contests. Confidence was high that this team could keep the Cinderella ball rolling.
Los Angeles had swept the Kansas City Kings in the first round 3-0, and dismantled the Mavericks (and their rookie center Mark West) in the semifinals, 4-1. They did so with a lineup that, to this day, is still utterly impressive:
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in his 15th year, but still the top scorer on the team and perennial All-Star and All-NBA 1st Team member.
- Magic Johnson, in his 5th year, #1 in the league with 13.1 apg, and also a member of the All-NBA 1st Team.
- Michael Cooper, who was on the 1st Team All-Defensive team.
- James Worthy in his second year, but his first playoffs (he had broken his leg in April of ’83 against the Suns).
- Rookie guard from Arizona State, Byron Scott.
- A 32 year-old Bob McAdoo.
- A 25 year-old Kurt Rambis.
- And a 30 year-old Jamaal Wilkes.
They had been to the NBA Finals three times in the past four years, winning the championship twice. The had been swept the previous year by Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, and the Philadelphia 76ers.
And so, the series between #1 and #6 began:
Game 1 was played at The Great Western Forum on May 12, 1984 in Los Angeles. The Lakers won, 110-94.
After scoring 32 in the first, the Lakers held the Suns to 62 points the rest of the game. They used their balanced attack on offense to confuse and outwit Phoenix. The Suns accomplished their mission of pounding the boards, but they turned the ball over 23 times. Walter Davis’ 24 points were overshadowed by his 5 fouls and 5 turnovers.
Suns go down 0-2 after losing Game 2 to the Lakers, 118-102.
What was interesting about this game was Charles Pittman, who started only 8 games all season, got the start over Maurice Lucas. Mo played 16 minutes in the game, scoring 8 points and grabbing 6 rebounds, but MacLeod chose to go with Pittman to try to combat the Lakers’ attack.
It didn’t work.
Seven Lakers scored in double figures, led by Kareem’s 21 and 10. The Suns held Magic’s scoring in check. He only had 6 points in this game on 2 for 5 shooting. But he did account for 24 assists, which to this day is an NBA record for a playoff game (later tied by John Stockton). The Suns, as a team, had a total of 25 assists.
A change of scenery was much needed, and luckily Game 3 shifted back to Phoenix, Arizona. This is another one of the fun games to watch that I never knew existed, and it is one you can find the 2nd half to on YouTube:
The game picks up right after Byron Scott takes a nasty fall on a Nance block attempt. The roars of “Luuuuuuuuuuke” can be heard whenever Lucas touches the ball.
Watching this game you can see what made Magic so special. Mentally, he was two steps ahead of everyone. His court vision, coupled with his precise passing, was special. He ran the fast break like a surgeon. The Suns would try to do the same, and that is where you could see the difference Magic made. Phoenix would fumble and bumble down the court on the break. Los Angeles was poetry.
80’s basketball was quite different. Full court traps, 18-foot jumpers galore, the short shorts, the perms. It’s quality a watch. You could tell they crowd wanted the three-ball; every time one was shot, the “oooh’s” and “awww’s” from the crowd echoed throughout the old arena.
Phoenix found themselves in foul trouble in the 4th, which allowed Los Angeles back into the game. Following a strange ‘illegal defense on the Suns so the bucket counts’ call by Earl Strom to tie the game, Walter Davis (who had a rough 4th) is called for an offensive foul with :05 left. Kareem loses a pass from Magic with :03 seconds left, Davis steps out of bounds with :02 seconds left, and Byron Scott misses a three as time expires in regulation.
The Suns were 4-0 in overtime on the season entering this game. The period belonged to Kyle Macy. He scored the first 6 of Phoenix’s 16 points, and he did so driving into the lane and making a couple of tough layups.
The Suns get on the board with the 135-127 overtime W, pushing the series to 2-1.
The starters played fantastic in this game, as Larry Nance had 23 and 12. Walter Davis had 24 points, and Maurice Lucas was back in the starting lineup and had 19 points, 17 boards. I still wonder, why wasn’t he in Game 2?
Game 4 went to the Lakers, as they came back and went up 3-1, beating the Suns 126-115.
Magic had 20 points and 15 assists. Kareem “I-was-a-coin-flip-away-from-being-a-Sun” Abdul-Jabbar had 31. The Lakers shot 60%. Nance had another great game with 27 points, but the sustained attack from Los Angeles again proved to be too much. They had 6 players in double figures.
Game 5 saw the Suns push the series to 3-2, as they once again defeated the Lakers 126-121.
The sustained offensive barrage that the Lakers had been drumming the Suns with all series was thwarted. While Magic and Kareem did their thing, only James Worthy’s 23 off the bench broke double figures for the Lakers.
In turn, the Suns provided their own offensive outbreak. All 5 Suns’ starters scored at least 20 points. The team shot 60% from the field.
The Cinderella Suns’ magic ran out on May 25, 1984.
Game 6, which was back in Phoenix, was the end of it all. The Lakers beat the Suns 99-97 in a game that I wish I could find footage of. Magic had a triple-double (16 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds), James Worthy got his first start of the series, and the Lakers prevailed.
The Suns were up 1 entering the 4th, and they missed a last second shot that could’ve tied it. The shot was missed, and midnight struck for the Cinderella Suns.
The Lakers would go on to lose in an epic seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics.
The Suns would finish 36-46 the next year, which was still good enough for the #8 seed, but get swept by the Lakers in the first round in ’85.
The ’83-’84 Suns are rarely talked about in Suns history, and I guess part of me understands why. They were over-achievers that year. They weren’t sexy; they were bruisers. Yes, they were unexpected underdogs in the playoffs, and everyone loves a Cinderella story, but with so many other high-expectation and high-performing teams in their history, this team gets lost in the shuffle.
When you have a franchise that has had so many near misses at glory, you focus on those moments. Yes, the Suns made an improbable run, and they should be recognized for it. They ran into the Showtime Buzzsaw of the 1980’s, and most likely were heavy, heavy underdogs entering that series. But they got to that series.
The Suns legacy of the mid-1980 Suns’ teams would soon been tarnished by a drug trafficking scandal. The years prior to the corruption were soon dismissed due to the players involved. James Edwards would be indicted in 1987 for his involvement. Walter Davis testified against former players, and in doing so, lost the respect of many.
Their story isn’t of a near miss, it’s of coming together, playing as a cohesive unit, and shocking the NBA world. Bleacher Report rank’s the ’83-’84 Suns’ playoff performance #7 on their ‘Biggest NBA Playoff Cinderella’ list.
For 40 days in 1984, the Phoenix Suns put on the glass slipper and enjoyed the spoils of the ball.
And now you know.