The Chicago Bulls win their third straight NBA Championship, beating the Phoenix Suns 99-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at America West Arena. The Bulls, who lost Game 5 with a chance to close the series out at home, needed a dramatic from John Paxson with 3.9 seconds left to win and avoid a Game 7, as Michael Jordan is named NBA Finals MVP.
The Phoenix Suns, led by first-year coach Paul Westphal also geared up for a title run playing in the newly opened America West Arena. During the off-season, the Suns made a big splash by signing Danny Ainge and acquiring Charles Barkley from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang. Charles Barkley was everything the Suns wanted and more, winning the NBA MVP with 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. As a result, Phoenix posted the best record in the NBA at 63-19.
The Suns ran into trouble in the playoff right away as they dropped the first two games at home to the Los Angeles Lakers and needed to win the next three games to avoid becoming the first team to lose to an eighth seed. Escaping Game 3 with a 107-102 win, the Suns got the series back to Phoenix, where they won Game 5 in overtime 112-104, making good on Paul Westphal’s guarantee of a comeback. The Suns would move on to beat the San Antonio Spurs in six games, winning the finale 102-100 on a jumper by Charles Barkley in what would be the final game at HemisFair Arena. In the Western Conference Finals, the Suns were pushed to the limit again, needing seven games to beat the Seattle Supersonics.
The NBA Finals began with the Chicago Bulls establishing their dominance early in Phoenix as they scored 34 points in the first quarter and held off the Suns 100-92 in the opener, as Michael Jordan had a game-high 31 points. Game 2 was close throughout as Jordan and Charles Barley each scored 42 points. The Bulls would win again 111-108 as Scottie Pippen blocked Danny Ainge’s game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer. Facing desperation down 0-2 again in a Game 3 on the road, the Suns rose to the occasion again. However, Michael Jordan had another big game, scoring 44 points in the second NBA Finals game to go to Triple Overtime. Both games involved the Phoenix Suns, who battled the Boston Celtics into Triple Overtime in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals. Suns coach Paul Westphal had been a player on that Suns team that lost to the Celtics. This time the Suns would win 131-129, as Dan Marjele had 28 points, Kevin Johnson had 25, and Charles Barkley had 24 points and 19 rebounds. Game 4 would turn into a battle of teammates from the Dream Team, as Barkley had a Triple Double with 32 points, 12 boards, and ten assists. Meanwhile, Jordan scored 55 points tying Rick Barry for the second most points in the NBA Finals Game, behind Elgin Baylor’s 61 points in 1962.
Michael Jordan would equal Magic Johnson’s record for three NBA Finals MVPs, averaging 41.0 points per game during the season. Little did anyone know at the time that Jordan would retire before the start of the next season after a trying off-season that saw his father murdered in an attempted carjacking in North Carolina. Jordan would return after missing nearly two years, and the Bulls would go on another three-peat, winning six titles in eight years.