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A deep dive into the Suns’ Game 7 history

The Phoenix Suns will play in their tenth Game 7 in franchise history.

1995 Western Conference Semifinals Game 7: Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Devin Booker said it following the Phoenix Suns loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6. The two most exciting words in sports? “Game 7”. Phoenix and Dallas are on a collision course for a Game 7 affair on Sunday. Anything can happen.

Sure, those are the greatest two words in sports. Some of the greatest games we’ve witnessed in NBA history are Game 7 battles. Booker referenced the 2013 NBA Finals Game 7, a 95-88 win for the Miami Heat over the San Antonio Spurs.

There was the 2010 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, with Kobe dropping 23 points and 15 rebounds to lead his team to a 83-79 victory. The Cavs beating the Warriors in 2016. The 2002 Western Conference Finals victory by the Lakers over the Sacramento Kings. The list goes on and on.

While I love a good Game 7, I’m not a fan of one when my team is participating in it. I’m stressed just thinking about it, and come tip-off on Sunday, I’ll be a hot mess. Leave me be.

From a historical perspective, it is the tenth Game 7 that the Suns have participated in. The team is 4-5 in their previous nine. It’s time to hop in the ‘old time machine and remember some of the stress-inducing moments we’ve endured.

1970 Division Semifinals: Lakers 129, Suns 94

The Suns were in their second season and, with a 39-43 record, surprisingly earned the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Impressively, they pushed the Lakers to a Game 7, as Connie Hawkins averaged 25.4 points a game.

When you’re playing against the likes of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain, it’s a tall task to overcome. The Lakers went up early, carrying a 63-40 lead into halftime. They never looked back. Wilt went for 30 points and 27 rebounds in Game 7 as the Lakers rolled over Phoenix.

The Lakers would play another Game 7 in their 1970 playoff run, losing to the Willis Reed and the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals.

Suns 0-1 in Game 7.

1976 Conference Finals: Suns 94, Warriors 86

En route to their first ever NBA Finals, a 42-40 Phoenix Suns team matched up against the defending champion and league-best 59-23 Golden State Warriors in 1976 in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors were heavily favored as they eventual Hall of Famer Rick Barry.

What happened in that Game 7 was a legendary tale of a superstar refusing to shoot, something the Suns have had happen against them a couple of times in a Game 7.

Ricky Sobers and Rick Barry got into a skirmish early in the game and, rumor has it, Barry watched the film at halftime and saw none of his teammates came to his defense. Barry had a reputation for being, well, a prick. His alleged response? Not shooting is the second half.

While the Warriors had a 4-point lead entering halftime, Phoenix outscored Golden State 52-38 in the second half to secure the 94-86 win. They would head to the Finals to play the Boston Celtics, losing in six games. Because that is what the Suns do in the Finals…lose in six.

Suns 1-1 in Game 7.

1979 Conference Finals: Sonics 114, Suns 110

The Suns were down 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals against future Sun Dennis Johnson and the Seattle SuperSonics when they ripped off three consecutive wins to go up in the series 3-2. This Sonics team was tested, losing in the NBA Finals to the Washington Bullets the season before, but their backs were against the wall as they made the Game 6 to Phoenix.

The Suns were primed to make their second NBA Finals appearance in four years as they led the Sonics 85-77 entering the fourth quarter of Game 6. The Suns hadn’t lost a home game in 10 weeks and it appeared that this Mother’s Day game would be memorable. It was, but for the wrong reasons.

Seattle, behind 7-of-11 shooting from big man Jack Sikma, outscored Phoenix 29-20 in the fourth, winning the game 106-105 on a Gus Williams jumper with 52 seconds left. The victory ensured a Game 7 at home for the Sonics. Four days later – quite the break in between games – Sikma scored 33 points and snagged 11 rebounds, Williams dropped 29 points, and Dennis Johnson added 26 to elevate the Sonics over the Suns, 114-100.

Suns 1-2 in Game 7.

1981 Conference Semifinals: Kings 95, Suns 88

Two seasons later, this time with Dennis Johnson on the roster to assist Walter Davis and Alvan Adams, the Suns were back in a Game 7. Phoenix had the best record in the Western Conference (57-25), better than the Showtime Lakers (54-28) and entered the postseason with the #1 seed in the conference.

The top two seeds earned a first round bye back in 1981, and the Suns’ reward for their regular season efforts was the right to play the Kansas City Kings in the Conference Semifinals. The Kings were coming off of a best-of-three series win over the Portland TrailBlazers, a matchup dominated by Otis Birdsong and forward Scott Wedman.

I don’t remember these teams as it was here before I was even born. But I’m sure if you ask Dave King he will remind you that the Kansas City Kings were coached by Suns legend Cotton Fitzsimmons.

Kansas City Kings Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Suns dominated Kansas City in Game 1 and in the process Otis Birdsong sprained his right ankle. Many believed the series was lost. But not the Kings. Kansas City went up 3-1 before the Suns won Game 5 and 6, forcing a Game 7 in Phoenix.

Game 7 was tied at halftime, but the Suns scored a mere 12 points in the third quarter. The Kings rode the emotional boost of having Birdsong coming off the bench – he played 15 minutes – and won the game 95-88.

Suns 1-3 in Game 7.

1993 Conference Finals: Suns 123, Sonics 110

Ah, now we are entering games I actually remember! The Barkley Era, filled with Suns’ teams who can never put the opposition away. Who could forget the 1993 season and the path to the NBA Finals for the Suns?

It started with Phoenix trailing the Lakers 2-0 in the best-of-five first round and, following a memorable guarantee by Paul Westphal, stormed back to take the series 3-2. The Suns followed it up with a 4-2 series win over the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals, capitalized by a memorable Charles Barkley jumper.

For the second time in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns play the Seattle SuperSonics in a series that will lead to a Game 7. It was a back-and-forth series, with no team winning two in a row. Shot for shot, the Sonics were led by Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and Ricky Pierce.

Ask any Suns fan – or even Charles Barkley himself – and they’ll recall the best game in Barkley’s career. He scored 44 points and snagged 24 rebounds. Ask any Sonics fan what they thought of that game and they’ll quickly remind you that Phoenix shot 64 free-throw attempts. You read that right. 64.

Barkley went 19-of-22 from the charity stripe, the Suns went 57-of-64 (89 percent) and won 123-110, and moved on to the NBA Finals.

I don’t remember the free throws nearly as much as I remember the joy I felt watching that Phoenix Suns team make a trip to the finals. But I’m sure if Twitter was around back then, it would be an infamous moment. While the 1993 run though the playoffs was successful, the team did once again lose six in the NBA Finals, this time at the hands of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Suns 2-3 in Game 7.

1994 Conference Semifinals: Rockets 104, Suns 94

Now we are entering the heartbreak years.

I’ll post the highlights below for those of you who have never watched them. If you haven’t, you should witness what causes the anguish every Suns fan feels. And those of us who have seen and experienced it? We will refuse to press play. Because what the Houston Rockets did to the Phoenix Suns in consecutive years in consecutive Game 7’s was soul crushing.

First up? 1994.

A year after losing in the NBA Finals, the Suns posted the third best record in the West, behind the Rockets and the Sonics. Phoenix easily dispatched the Warriors in the First Round 3-0, and when the top-seeded Sonics were shocked by the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets, the door was left open for a potential return to the NBA Finals.

Standing in the way of Phoenix was the #2 seeded Rockets.

The Suns had a promising start in the series, winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Houston. Yet when they returned to Phoenix, they dropped the next two on their home court. Houston also took Game 5, but the Suns had a dominating victory in Game 6 to push the series to a decisive Game 7.

From the Associated Press:

The Rockets, who blew a 20-point lead with 10 minutes to go in Game 2 and lost 124-117 in overtime, had a chance to fade again when the playoff-hardened Suns closed what had been a 16-point deficit to 77-76 late in the third quarter.

The Suns pulled to 97-92 with 1:42 to go, but Olajuwon waded through heavy traffic for a dunk with 1:30 to play. Then rookie reserve Sam Cassell, who scored 22 points, added a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left, sealing the Suns’ fate.

Houston declined the invitation to fold, and took a 90-80 lead with 7:12 left. Phoenix kept fighting back, but the Rockets refused to be denied.

Barkley was ejected late in the game, the future of the Suns was in doubt as Sir Charles had continually threatened to retire at the end of the season. One of the best opportunities to take a shot at a title was denied. It hurt, but it wasn’t nearly as heartbreaking as the following season.

Suns 2-4 in Game 7.

1995 Conference Semifinals: Rockets 115, Suns 114

1995 mirrored the previous season as the Suns once again finished with the third best record in the Western Conference. And just like the previous season, Phoenix flew through the first round, this time sweeping the Portland TrailBlazers 3-0.

Once again they would face the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals. Houston won the championship the year before, but struggled in 1994-95, finishing the season 47-35 with the #6 seed.

The Suns had revenge on their mind and took a 3-1 series lead. And then began the biggest collapse in Phoenix Suns’ history.Phoenix dropped a close-out Game 5 at home and, despite Charles Barkley going for 34 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6, the Suns fell to the Rockets once more.

For the second consecutive season, the two teams were face-off in a Game 7.

Kevin Johnson was unbelievably impressive, scoring 46 points and dishing out10 assists in Game 7. Chuck had 18 points and 23 rebounds. Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler both had 29 points for the Rockets. The Suns were up 51-41 at the half. But it wouldn’t be a star who would decide the series.

With 21.7 seconds left in the game Kevin Johnson missed a free-throw – his only miss in 22 attempts from the line – Houston had the ball in a tie game. Phoenix attempted to trap Robert Horry, but he found a wide-open Mario Elie in the corner.

I remember the shot like it was yesterday. Elie was all alone. He squared, he fired, and he sunk a three-pointer. Then came the infamous kiss of death.

I lost a good remote that day.

The Rockets were the first road team to win a Game 7 since 1982. Of course they were.

It was the last game we would see Charles Barkley in a Phoenix Suns jersey as the team traded him to the Rockets the following off-season. It was a shot that ended an era.

Suns 2-5 in Game 7.

2006 First Round: Suns 121, Lakers 90

Fast forward 11 seasons to Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns of Seven Seconds or Less. The Suns were seeking to avenge a poor 2005 playoff run after stunning the league with their fast-paced attack.

Despite missing All-Star Amare Stoudemire for the bulk of the season, Phoenix finished the season with a 54-28 record. The team would go on to have one of the most interesting postseason runs in NBA history. Game 7 was played in two consecutive series. Both were against Los Angeles teams.

First stop was Kobe Bryant at the peak of his offensive powers and the Los Angeles Lakers. He led the league in scoring, averaging 35.4 points, the most of his career. The Suns were surprised by the Lakers who dominated the first four games of the series, going 3-1. It’s never easy for Phoenix, is it?

Phoenix won Game 5, but it was Game 6 that may have ultimately sealed the Lakers fate. Bryant went for 50 points but the Lakers lost. The media was critical of shoot-first Kobe. And, like Rick Barry two decades before him, Bryant was out to make a statement in Game 7.

Kobe had averaged 21.5 shots a game and 28.5 points through the first six games of the series. But in Game 7, Kobe went dormant. He only shot the ball 16 times, making 8, and scoring 24 points. Many believed that he was being passive, focusing on passing the ball to silence his critics. He ended the game with one assist.

The Suns took advantage of passive Kobe, shot 61 percent from the field, and thoroughly dominated the Suns Lakers, winning by 30 points.

Suns 3-5 in Game 7.

2006 Conference Semifinals: Suns 127, Clippers 107

The next series for the Phoenix Suns was against the Los Angeles Clippers with Elton Brand in his prime. Yeah, it was a prime that didn’t last very long, but he led the Clippers to the postseason for the first time in 8 seasons. But also on the team was a player who helped banish the Suns in the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals. Sam Cassell with his incessive pump faking.

The series was another back-and-forth affair, with haymakers being thrown by both teams throughout. Suns won Game 1, Clippers won Game 2. Suns won Game 3, Clippers won Game 4. Suns won Game 5, Clippers won Game 6.

The stage reset for another Game 7 for the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 postseason.

From ESPN:

The Clippers, trying to make the conference finals for the first time in the franchise’s history, fell behind in the final 37 seconds of the first quarter and never could catch up.

Phoenix stretched an eight-point halftime lead to 15 after three, then blew the game open early in the fourth.

[James] Jones’ 3-pointer to start the final period gave Phoenix a 97-79 lead. The 15 3s were the most for the Suns in the playoffs this season. The Suns are 4-0 in elimination games in this year’s playoffs.

As impressive as two Game 7 wins in one postseason is, 14 games in two series took a toll on the Suns. Couple that with Mike D’Antoni unwillingness to use his bench, and the Suns were toast in the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

Suns 4-5 in Game 7.

And here we are, on the eve of the tenth Game 7 in Phoenix Suns history. The Game 7’s have spanned across at Suns’ eras, from Walter Davis to Steve Nash. Now it is Devin Booker’s turn to author a chapter in Game 7 lore.

Thus far in his playoff career, he has risen to the occasion when faced with opportunities to do so. He scored 47 points in a closeout game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the First Round of the 2021 playoffs. He dropped a casual 40 and 11 against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. He is one to embrace the moment, and understand the historical significance of playing in a Game 7.

Again, anything can happen in Game 7.

What makes the series interesting against the 2022 Dallas Mavericks is that the home has won each game. It is a rare thing to see. It is only happened five times in the past 19 seasons:

For those of you who are our younger fans of this franchise, welcome to your first Game 7. My recommendation? Tune in and hide your remote. Because every possession carries the weight of 1000 stars. And if you’re like me, one who tends to throw things when frustrated –I know I’m like a child – you might want to put the remote away. Pick up a pillow. Scream into it. Good, bad, or indifferent, your emotions will be high and just as well your stress levels.

Buckle up for the rollercoaster ride. Hopefully the Phoenix Suns can emerge victorious on Sunday and push their Game 7 record historically to 5-5. Whatever happens, it’ll be memorable.

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