Even so, the game, and perhaps Phoenix' best chance to reach the NBA finals for the second time in four years, went down to the final seconds and died at the hands of their best player. After rallying from a seven-point first-half deficit to a 97-91 lead with 7:45 left on the strength of Paul Westphal's 27 points and Davis' 24, the Suns got only two more field goals the rest of the way. It's not insignificant that the surge took place when Wilkens decided to shift the 6'8", 245-pound moving mountain, Shelton, onto Davis in place of the smaller, slower John Johnson, who had been trying vainly to stop Davis throughout the series.
First, Shelton got Seattle what would become the winning basket when he rifled an offensive rebound to Williams for a swish with 54 seconds left, to make it 106-105. But Phoenix would have three chances to win it.
With 41 seconds remaining, Davis, driving the lane, was bothered enough by Shelton to be whistled for traveling. It was Davis' second turnover in the final 67 seconds. Then with four seconds left, Phoenix set up a shot for Davis, but he missed from the left of the key, again with Shelton in his face. In the last second, Garfield Heard missed everything, and so after being so close, the Suns had blown their chance. Wasn't that just like Phoenix? And, also, just like Seattle?
It was in Phoenix back before Game 3 that the Suns had gained the upper hand. The sun was shining brightly, prompting many of the Sonics, confident and leading 2-0, to skip an optional practice in favor of their hotel pool the day before the game. But in a stuffy gym, Phoenix Coach John MacLeod was schooling the Suns on several new ways to attack. First off, Seattle's 16-rebound-per-game edge—8.5 on the offensive end—was intolerable. Not only did it negate Phoenix' bread-and-butter fast break, but it also gave the Sonics more opportunities to score than they deserved. Second, when Phoenix set up its offense with Alvan Adams in the high post, three Sonics would fill the lane and move en masse to double- or triple-team Westphal or Davis when either drove to the basket. "Ours is the first NBA team ever to have four players with 300 or more assists," said MacLeod. "There'll always be an open man. It shouldn't be so difficult for us to find him."
And so they did, but not before Adams went out after 11 minutes of Game 3 with a sprained left ankle. For some long moments, Phoenix' hopes seemed to hobble off the floor with Adams. Kramer, a third-round draft pick who hadn't played center since his freshman year at San Diego State, forced Sikma even deeper into his shooting slump—5 for 13 in Game 3. When Kramer chipped in with 11 points, six rebounds, two blocks and three assists himself, it appeared that Adams' injury might turn out to be one of those happy accidents.
"Alvan's game is finesse," said one of the Suns. "Joel will bang. He may bother Sikma more than Alvan could." And indeed, facing Kramer, the 6'11", 230-pound Sikma pressed harder.
In the third quarter, Phoenix took command of the boards for the first time in the series and came from one point down to seven ahead. As the third period became the fourth, Phoenix ran off a 16-2 surge, its fast break—led by Davis—in full gear. The dizzied Sonics never got closer than the 10 points by which they lost, 113-103.
Nonetheless, the victory still could have been a fluke. Surely with a slackjawed rookie center, who looks rather like a lost puppy when he trots onto the floor, Phoenix couldn't win again. But Kramer is smart and strong and quicker than he looks, and in Game 4 the Suns won more convincingly, 100-91. They dominated the boards at both ends, 49-40, and ran 13 fast breaks to Seattle's four. Davis was taking down rebounds, darting past defenders, and he scored 27 points.
John Johnson, who had to guard Davis, explained his strategy. "First I try to front him without the ball," he said. "Then I try to press him into either making the bad pass or the shot. Then I pray to God that he misses it."
Meanwhile, Sikma's slump was past the critical stage—2 for 13. In the first four games, he was 19 for 55 and had exactly three assists. Said Heard, who took turns with Truck Robinson and Davis in helping Kramer out, "They're playing right into our hands by going to Jack."