The Phoenix Suns, those proponents of swimming pool living, the child center and the heartwarming comeback, began last week rooming with the Salvation Army in a Boston hotel and finished it with sunrise services in the desert. Along the way, they stopped playing a bad second fiddle and taught the Boston Celtics a bruising lesson. Where there is even a glimmer of Suns, it seems, there is hope.
Just when it appeared Phoenix was ready to concede the National Basketball Association championship to the Celtics, the Suns tagged Boston with a 105-98 Sunday morning defeat in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum that left Boston suddenly looking less than overwhelming.
Up until then, the Suntans had been playing as if they were afraid of the dark. Boston throttled Phoenix in the first two games in Beantown and threatened to become the second straight club to sweep the NBA finals. When Phoenix returned home for the third game, the welcoming rally staged for them had all the enthusiasm of a wake.
Ah, but these are the Suns, the stuff of which Hans Christian Andersen and Hollywood scripts are made. Phoenix was flat on the floor of the Pacific Division only a few months ago, then rose triumphantly. Compared to what the club had already been through, being down 2-0 to the Celtics was not all that bad. Phoenix newspapers spewed out reams of copy about the machinations and alleged illegal tactics of the Celtics, and the Suns vowed retribution.
What happened was that Phoenix reduced Boston's offense to the rushed 20-footer and a quick retreat back on defense. Boston went scoreless for almost the first five minutes of the second quarter and by then had only 17 points and trailed by 16.
A short time later the Suns' Ricky Sobers and the Celtics' Kevin Stacom put some punch into, the game. The rival guards exchanged a flurry of blows that ended with, both being ejected. The flare-up also indicated that the Suns believed they had taken enough from the Celtics. "We can't let them bully us," Sobers said later. "It was rough," added Dick Van Arsdale, "but that's how Boston likes to play. I almost got my head taken off one time."
But Boston is still Boston, a team going for its 13th NBA championship. Despite having everyone but the bus driver in foul trouble, plus an unseemly number of careless turnovers and some miserable shooting, the Celtics struggled up from 23 points down in the third quarter and found themselves back in the game but good, trailing by just two with three minutes to go.
Then Alvan Adams went to work. Adams is the Suns' 21-year-old hardship rookie who skipped his senior year at Oklahoma to torment rival centers with the smoothest style of pivot play since Johnny Kerr. He finished the day with a game-high 33 points, plus 14 rebounds and two assists. But what really drove the Phoenix folks wild was his heroics in the fourth quarter. In a space of 100 seconds Adams did things like score two baskets over two different Celtics, pass through them to give Paul Westphal an easy layin, tip in another Westphal miss and dribble the ball the length of the floor against the Boston press, which on this day was not nearly as effective as local print media. "The newspapers beat us," moaned Boston Coach Tom Heinsohn later. "I didn't know the power of the press was that big. We were lucky to run up and down the floor. That was hometown cooking. That's what that was."
All told, Charlie Scott and Dave Cowens fouled out of the game, Stacom was thrown out for fighting, and Boston incurred two technicals.
Throughout the week the Celtics had assumed the posture that the Suns' dream was about to come to its inevitable end. After the defeat, they still felt the same way. "We're still 2-1," said Cowens with a smirk. "I ain't worried. We'll get 'er. If we don't get 'er today, we'll get 'er tomorrow. That's what my old friend T. E. Doyle used to say back home."