Paxson's bomb completes Bulls' threepeat, 99-98

THREE FOR THREE

June 21, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- "That was three the hard way," said Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson.

No one had to explain. Jackson was simply expressing the roller coaster the Chicago Bulls took this season to complete their threepeat mission as NBA champions -- the first team to accomplish the feat since the Boston Celtics ran off eight straight titles from 1959 to 1966.

It took a three-point shot by John Paxson with 3.9 seconds left to provide the winning 99-98 margin last night and finally eliminate the Phoenix Suns, four games to two.

The Suns, who lost all three of their home games, appeared on the verge of forcing a decisive seventh game here Wednesday night when the Bulls staged a last-minute rally.

Chicago, leading 87-79 at the start of the fourth quarter, failed to score for the next six minutes while fighting the Suns' aggressive defense and the deafening noise of 19,023 fans.

Meanwhile, Phoenix gained a 98-94 lead on Kevin Johnson's layup with 2:55 left, setting up the wild finish.

"Charles [Barkley] said destiny was on the Suns' side," said Michael Jordan, voted the finals Most Valuable Player after averaging a record 41 points in the series. "But tonight we proved destiny was on our side.

"One or two plays makes the difference between making or not making history. And we made the plays we had to. We believe in each other, and that's the sign of a great team."

Fighting off fatigue and the resilient Suns, the Bulls displayed characteristic poise in the final minute,with Paxson and power forward Horace Grant joining Jordan in providing crucial plays on both ends of the floor.

Jordan, who accounted for Chicago's first nine points in the last quarter, drove almost the length of the floor to pull his team

within 98-96 with 38 seconds left.

After the Suns' Dan Majerle missed a shot, the Bulls called a

timeout with 14 seconds left to plan their strategy for a tying or winning shot.

"In the huddle, I asked the guys, 'Do you want to go for it?' " said Jackson.

As the play developed, the Bulls had no choice but to go for the victory. The original play was designed for Jordan to break free on a backdoor pick. But the Suns defended that well.

Scottie Pippen then found Grant open underneath for what appeared to be an easy dunk. But the power forward, who for the second straightgame did not make a basket, passed up the shot. Danny Ainge had left Paxson to try and stop Pippen's penetration. That gave Grant the opportunity to find Paxson open behind the three-point line.

Paxson, a 10-year veteran who has made a career out of spotting up for three-pointers, never hesitated.

"It looked like the ball was in the air for an hour," said Phoenix coach Paul Westphal.

Said Paxson: "You're not thinking in that situation. You catch it and shoot it, just like I've been doing all my life. This was a dream fulfilled. I can't describe how I feel now."

The Suns had a final chance to extend the series. Johnson found a crack in the lane and tried a running shot from just behind the foul line. But Grant moved over and swatted it away, and the ball rolled on the floor as the final buzzer sounded.

The Bulls breathed a sigh of relief.

"We never could really get a hold on the Suns," said Jackson. "They always found a way to wiggle out whenever we got a lead. We played loose and free here to win the first two games, but then we really struggled to finish the job."

As expected, the Suns, who had won a league-high 62 regular-season games, and then made narrow escapes in the playoffs against the L.A. Lakers and Seattle SuperSonics, were disconsolate with the heart-breaking finish.

"Our luck just ran out," said Majerle. "We'd been in this situation many times before and pulled it out. But this time, it just didn't happen."

Charles Barkley, the irrepressible forward who had been brought to Phoenix this season to produce a championship, could only hang his head in frustration.

"There's really not much difference between us and the Bulls. We're both great teams," he said. "But coming close doesn't mean a thing. Right now we're just like all the other teams who came up short."

The Bulls can now be counted along with the Celtics and George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers (1952 to 1954) as one of only three NBA teams to win three straight titles.

For Jordan, it was a more personal accomplishment.

"I'm not saying this makes me the greatest player in the game," he said. "But with three straight, I've done something that Magic Johnson couldn't do with the Lakers, Larry Bird with the Celtics or Isiah Thomas with the Pistons. Magic has more rings, but winning three in a row means a lot to me. And winning this one was harder than anything I've ever done before."

Asked if he would lead the quest for four in a row, Jordan smiled broadly and said, "My love of the game is still strong. And as long as that lasts, I'll keep playing."

NBA FINALS

` BULLS VS. SUNS (Chicago wins series, 4-2)

Game 1 Bulls, 100-92

Game 2 Bulls, 111-108

Game 3 Suns, 129-121 (3 OT)

Game 4 Bulls, 111-105

Game 5 Suns, 108-98

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