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Perhaps it was early in the first quarter when rookie Ricky Sobers stood his ground to punch the golden face of Rick Barry, then settled down to lead the attack through deafening boos. Or maybe it was late in the fourth quarter when rookie Alvan Adams paused while taking down one of his 20 rebounds to nail another opponent with his elbow. Whenever it was, at some point last Sunday afternoon the Phoenix Sunderellas realized the slipper could be theirs.
All they had to do was stay close and prevent the Golden State Warriors' storied post-halftime explosion from occurring—which the Suns did by cutting an eight-point lead to nothing within three minutes at the beginning of the third quarter. They had to tighten the defense, take smart shots, catch up and pass the Warriors—which they did at the end of the third period. And they had to hang on, be cool, outpoise the champions, let Garfield Heard block shots, steal the basketball and pump in 21 key points. And especially they had to leave Barry standing around, pouting and wondering how a bloody nose would look when his next TV color-man assignment turns up.
In short, what the dazzling Phoenix Suns had to do—and did by a score of 94-86—was keep shining on in the seventh game of the NBA's Western Conference final playoffs in Oakland while the Golden State Warriors' instant dynasty collapsed before our very eyes.
"It was incredible to watch, wasn't it?" said Phoenix' Keith Erickson at the end of the Suns' finest Sunday. "The Warriors went away from everything they've done for two years. One on one, forcing shots, scrambling, fouling, panic. When they started cracking, I knew."
It was indeed a remarkable sight when the champions unraveled. In truth, they had difficulty getting in synch all afternoon, so completely did the Suns overplay the passing lanes and clog up the Warriors. Still, as the pressure mounted, everybody expected that Phil Smith, Jamaal Wilkes and all the other scourges of mankind would meet the test.
Instead, a strange role reversal took shape. With Barry going nearly 30 minutes without a basket, with Smith scoreless for 20, the Warriors insisted on either standing still or flinging the ball around school-yard style.
From a 70-70 tie with more than nine minutes left, Adams and Paul Westphal made the baskets that put Phoenix ahead to stay. While Golden State was being shut out for 3:17, the Suns pulled away to an 80-72 lead and the shocking upset.
The Suns, however, spoke up. Heard said the Golden State captain "didn't want to shoot it." Curtis Perry said Barry "never moved for the ball like he does." Dick Van Arsdale said "Rick seemed disenchanted. I think he was upset they couldn't blow us out."
For his part, Barry said the Warriors were unintelligent and had paid the price. "Everybody was yelling do this, do that," he said. "I run around, run around—for what? I never touched the ball sometimes. It was total breakdown. Ridiculous. We deserved to lose." Barry scored 20 points (six in the second half), which was 8.8 below his series average. Eight point eight would have gotten the Warriors to their second straight championship round by point eight.