Charles Barkley and Steve Nash having been doing their share of interviews lately, talking about several things including their glory years in Phoenix.
That got me thinking: Who had the best chance to win an NBA championship while playing for the Suns – Barkley or Nash?
Barkley led Phoenix to the NBA finals in his 1992-93 MVP season. Nash never played for a title despite making three trips to the Western Conference finals.
That alone gives Barkley the nod, but a strong case can be made for Nash. Here’s my top 5 ranking of which of their teams had the best chance to win a championship.
Barkley’s 1992-93 Suns. Lost to Michael Jordan and three-beat Chicago Bulls in NBA finals.
Nash’s 2006-07 Suns. Did Robert Horry’s hip-check of Nash change Phoenix’s place in history?
Nash’s 2004-05 Suns. First of Nash’s back-to-back MVP seasons ends in Western Conference finals.
Barkley’s 1993-94 Suns – With Jordan playing baseball, Suns didn’t capitalize in open window.
Barkley’s 1994-95 Suns – Blew 3-1 series lead to eventual back-to-back NBA champion Houston.
ICYMI: @TurnerSportsEJ was joined by 2x NBA MVP @SteveNash on #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson.https://t.co/2a1ApKFcT0
— NBA (@NBA) May 12, 2020
92-93: Barkley takes Suns to elite level
Suns players Charles Barkley (left), Kevin Johnson, and Danny Ainge Jersey are all smiles as they confer late in the triple-overtime period of their 129-121 win over the Chicago Bulls on June 13, 1993, in Chicago. Also in on the celebration are Tom Chambers Jersey, rear left, and Dan Majerle Jersey.
Suns players Charles Barkley (left), Kevin Johnson Jersey, and Danny Ainge are all smiles as they confer late in the triple-overtime period of their 129-121 win over the Chicago Bulls on June 13, 1993, in Chicago. Also in on the celebration are Tom Chambers, rear left, and Dan Majerle. (Photo: Mark Elias/AP)
Barkley was at the top of his game when he arrived in Phoenix after eight great seasons in Philadelphia.
He was coming off helping the Dream Team win gold in the 1992 Olympics.
In superb shape, Barkley led Phoenix to a franchise-best 62-20 mark.
The Suns posted the NBA’s best record that season and made it to the finals for only the second time in franchise history, but they lost to Jordan and the Bulls in six games.
Phoenix had home-court advantage, but dropped the first two games of the finals at home. Only one other team has done that in the finals since – Orlando in 1995.
The Rockets swept the Magic. Phoenix should’ve split those first two home games.
The Suns took two out of three in Chicago to force a Game 6. They were up 98-94 with 44 seconds left, but gave Jordan a clear path to the basket for a layup.
Then after Phoenix failed to score, Chicago took a timeout with 14.1 seconds remaining. Jordan took the inbound pass and passed the ball across midcourt to Scottie Pippen.
Barkley overplayed the play to set off a dooming sequence for Phoenix.
Pippen drove the ball into the lane, forcing Mark West Jersey to step up and leave Horace Grant. Pippen kicked it to Grant, forcing Danny Ainge to leave John Paxson.
Grant then passed the ball out to Paxson, who hit an open 3 to give Chicago a 99-98 lead with 3.9 seconds left.
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After a timeout, Kevin Johnson, not Barkley, got the ball, but Grant blocked his attempt from behind at the buzzer to crush Phoenix’s championship hopes.
Johnson was a great player. No question about that, but with the season on the line, the MVP has to take the final shot.
2006-07 Horry’s hip-check
San Antonio Spurs’ Robert Horry hip checked Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash during a 2007 playoff game 2007. The resulting fracas resulted in the ejection of two key Suns players and likely cost Phoenix a shot at an NBA title.
San Antonio Spurs’ Robert Horry hip checked Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash during a 2007 playoff game 2007. The resulting fracas resulted in the ejection of two key Suns players and likely cost Phoenix a shot at an NBA title. (Photo: Bahram Mark Sobhani, AP)
The season before, the Suns reached the conference finals for a second straight year, but were without Amare Stoudemire Jersey, who only played three games in 2005-06 because of knee injuries and surgeries.
With Stoudemire back, Phoenix was once again running at an optimum level in 2006-07.
The Suns won 61 games. Leandro Barbosa Jersey had a career year as he was one of six Suns averaging double figures.
Leading the league in scoring at 110.2 points a game, and coming off two deep playoff runs, Phoenix was battle tested and ready to take the next step to the NBA Finals.
The Suns ran through the Lakers in five games and had homecourt advantage going into to their conference semifinal series against San Antonio.
Down 2-1, Phoenix knotted the series with a huge 108-101 road win, but that wasn’t the biggest story in Game 4.
Late in the game, Robert Horry was called for a flagrant foul for what Nash described as “a quality hip-check” in knocking him out of bounds on the sidelines.
Horry received a two-game suspension, but Phoenix lost Stoudemire and Diaw for Game 5. Horry was an NBA champion, clutch player and proven veteran, but San Antonio didn’t need him nearly as much as Phoenix needed Stoudemire and Diaw.
The Suns proceeded to score a playoff-low 85 points in losing Game 5 by three at home. Stoudemire came back with a vengeance in Game 6 with 38 points,12 rebounds and four blocks, but Manu Ginobili went for 33, Tony Parker dropped 30 and Tim Duncan added 24, 13 boards and nine blocks in leading the Spurs to a 114-106 home victory to close out the Suns.
Honorable mentions (cont.): The champion San Antonio Spurs would have cracked the top five if Manu Ginobili was their starting shooting guard alongside Tony Parker, but Danny Green is no slouch and puts them on the honorable mention list.
Honorable mentions (cont.): The champion San Antonio Spurs would have cracked the top five if Manu Ginobili was their starting shooting guard alongside Tony Parker, but Danny Green is no slouch and puts them on the honorable mention list. (Photo: Photo by: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio followed its toughest series that season with a blitzing of Utah in five games and sweep of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals.
The Suns may have struggled with Utah, which went 3-1 against them that season, but they would’ve run through Cleveland like San Antonio did, too. They won both regular-season games over the Cavs by an average margin of 17 points.
James had a phenomenal postseason, but was out of gas by the time Cleveland played San Antonio. That wouldn’t have boded well for the Cavs against Phoenix.
Out of Nash’s first three years in his second Phoenix run, this was probably the Suns’ best shot to win an NBA title.
2004-05: Nash’s first MVP season
Suns guard Steve Nash (cq) receives the MVP trophy from NBA Commissioner David Sternbefore the start of Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at America West Arena in Phoenix on Monday, May 9, 2005.
Suns guard Steve Nash Jersey (cq) receives the MVP trophy from NBA Commissioner David Sternbefore the start of Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at America West Arena in Phoenix on Monday, May 9, 2005. (Photo: Michael Chow/azcentral sports)
The Suns won a season-best 62 games to tie a franchise record as Nash captured his first of back-to-back league MVPs after coming over from Dallas, where he had all-star seasons, deep playoff runs but was underpaid.
The Suns swept Memphis in the first round and eliminated Nash’s former team in six games before losing to the eventual NBA champion Spurs in the conference finals in five games.
Phoenix led the league in scoring at 110.4 points a game. The Suns entered the conference finals averaging 116.2 points in 10 playoff games.
The Spurs limited them to 104 points a game in the conference finals.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili were really hitting their stride as a Big 3. So as successful as Mike D’Antoni’s first full season as head coach with “Seven Seconds or Less,” the Suns came up suddenly short against the Spurs.
Had Phoenix got past San Antonio, defending NBA champion Detroit would’ve posed the same defensive problems the Spurs did. The Suns split the regular-season series, with Detroit holding the Suns to 80 points in a double-digit home win.
Phoenix won the rematch at home, 100-97, but Detroit had the better team.
Love the Ben Wallace-Stoudemire matchup. Phoenix would’ve had home-court, but Detroit had been there before.
These Suns hadn’t.
Edge Pistons, but maybe Phoenix’s pace and tempo would’ve worn Detroit down in a best-of-7 series.
1993-94: No Jordan, still no title
Phoenix Suns Charles Barkley Jersey shrugs his shoulders as an official explains a call in 1994. A game-worn Barkley jersey is among items on display in the Suns exhibit at the Arizona Capitol Museum.
Phoenix Suns Charles Barkley shrugs his shoulders as an official explains a call in 1994. A game-worn Barkley jersey is among items on display in the Suns exhibit at the Arizona Capitol Museum. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)
When Jordan retired for the first time and missed the 1993-94 season trying to play professional baseball, that opened the door for someone else to win an NBA title.
Phoenix didn’t take advantage of the moment.
The Suns fell to the Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals despite winning Game 1 and 2 in Houston.
Teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit 15 times since then according to eurohoops.net, but only Dallas and Boston have done so after losing the first two games at home with both occurring in the first round.
The Mavericks took down Houston in seven in 2005 while the Celtics won four straight over Chicago in 2017.
The Suns would’ve played Utah in the conference finals had they defeated the Rockets. They went 2-2 against the Jazz that season, losing the latter two games by an average margin of 15.5 points.
Seeing Karl Malone and Barkley go at it would’ve been special, but Phoenix would’ve had home-court advantage as a third seed. Had the Suns gotten past the Jazz, they would’ve opened the NBA finals in New York as the Knicks finished 57-25 that season.
Phoenix went 56-26. They split their home-away series, but the Suns had the edge in championship experience over the Knicks, who last reached the finals in the 1970s.
If there ever was a season for the Suns to win a title, with Jordan away trying to make it in baseball, it was that one.
1994-95: Oh no, not again
Mario Elie hit the game winner in Houston’s 7 victory over Phoenix in the 1995 Western Conference semifinals.
Mario Elie hit the game winner in Houston’s 7 victory over Phoenix in the 1995 Western Conference semifinals. (Photo: Associated Press)
A year later, Phoenix once again jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over Houston in the conference semifinals only to collapse again in seven games – but with home-court advantage this time
Phoenix actually built a 3-1 series lead only to lose three in a row with two being at home, something A.C. Green Jersey guaranteed wouldn’t happen after winning Game 4.
“A.C. is religious, but he’s no prophet,” Kenny Smith answered.
Religious and/or prophet aside, again, that can’t happen if you’re Phoenix.
Only 11 times in NBA playoff history has a team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, with Cleveland being the last to do it in the 2016 Finals over 73-win Golden State.
Twenty-one years earlier, Mario Elie helped Houston make history.
With Suns fans roaring beyond a fevered pitch at then-America West Arena, Elie hit a clutch 3 to put Houston up three with 7.1 seconds left in the game.
Dagger shot, especially from a role player who had just five points before knocking down that corner 3, but remember what happened before that?
With Phoenix down one, Kevin Johnson stepped to the line with 21.6 seconds left after drawing the foul on the drive. He had scored 45 points and was 20-of-20 from the line.
Made the first. Missed the second.
The game tied, Phoenix decided to trap Smith at midcourt. He passed the ball to Horry, who got it past midcourt and found Elie open on the opposite side.
Danny Schayes was guarding Hakeem Olajuwon. Can’t leave Dream alone.
So Schayes challenge Elie’s shot late only to watch it swish followed up by his forever kiss to the Suns’ bench.
Not cool, Mario.
Afterward, Barkley was talking retirement, saying he “probably” played his last game.
Barkley kept playing, but this series loss might have hurt more than the previous two.
THEN: Suns forward Charles Barkley (left) tries to drive against the San Antonio Spurs’ Dennis Rodman in 1994. Barkley wears mid-length shorts with longer tight undershorts displaying the Suns logo.
THEN: Suns forward Charles Barkley (left) tries to drive against the San Antonio Spurs’ Dennis Rodman in 1994. Barkley wears mid-length shorts with longer tight undershorts displaying the Suns logo. (Photo: AP Photo)
The Suns would’ve taken on the Spurs in the conference finals. They split four games in the regular season that were decided by an average margin of 3.75 points.
That Barkley-Dennis Rodman matchup?
Missed out on that one, but the Spurs would’ve had home-court advantage.
Think San Antonio takes this series, but if Phoenix pushed past the Spurs, could it have defeated Orlando in the finals?
Shaquille O’Neal. Penny Hardaway.
Young guns living it up and winning big in sunny Florida.
The Magic eliminated the Bulls in Jordan’s comeback season. They would’ve had all the confidence to pummel the Suns, but again, Phoenix had the championship experience – and would’ve had home-court advantage, too.
May 7, 2006: Jerry Colangelo poses with Steve Nash, winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2005/06 season. Nash joins Hall of Famer Magic Johnson as the only point guard in league history to win multiple MVP trophies and becomes one of only nine players to win the award in back-to-back seasons.
May 7, 2006: Jerry Colangelo poses with Steve Nash, winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2005/06 season. Nash joins Hall of Famer Magic Johnson as the only point guard in league history to win multiple MVP trophies and becomes one of only nine players to win the award in back-to-back seasons. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
2005-06: A second MVP season for Nash as Phoenix returned to the conference finals, but once again came up short. This time, Dallas eliminated the Suns in six games.
The Suns kept leading the league in scoring at 108.4 points a game. They entered the conference finals averaging 109, but went 1-4 in games when scoring under 100.
That unfortunate trend continued against the Mavericks. Dallas held Phoenix to under 100 points three times and won all three games.
With the series tied 2-2, Dirk Nowitzki went for 50 in a pivotal Game 5 win for Dallas.
Nash was the league MVP, but Nowitzki was the best player in this series.
Without an injured Stoudemire, Phoenix should be commended for such a deep playoff run. Even if they had somehow eliminated Dallas, can’t see them standing up a deep Miami team led by a young Dwyane Wade and still productive Shaquille O’Neal.
Phoenix did go 2-0 against the Heat with the latter win coming in January, but by June, Miami was a different team.
2009-10: Nash was on the downside of his career, but Stoudemire rose up and led Phoenix to the 2010 conference finals against Kobe Bryant and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Trailing 2-0, Phoenix evened the series with two wins at home and was brimming with confidence for Game 5 in Los Angeles.
Nash turned back the clock with 29 points and 11 assists. Bryant nearly posted a triple-double (30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists), but Ron Artest proved to be the hero.
With the game tied, Artest rebounded a Bryant air-ball 3 and put it back with no time remaining to give the Lakers a shocking 103-101 win. Artest scored just four points, made some boneheaded plays, but delivered the biggest shot of the series.
Still, Phoenix had a chance to return home to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 in Los Angeles.
Nash guaranteed a victory.
“I just said we’re going home and win Game 6 and come back in Game 7,” Nash said. “Take it how you want to take it.”
Bryant had something else in mind.
Scoring a game-high 37 points, Bryant scored nine in the final two minutes in leading the Lakers to a 111-103 victory. The Lakers would repeat as NBA champions by beating rival Boston in an epic series that went seven games.
Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant soars back to the bench after hitting a basket to hold off the Phoenix Suns during Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals at US Airways Center in Phoenix on May 29, 2010.
Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant soars back to the bench after hitting a basket to hold off the Phoenix Suns during Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals at US Airways Center in Phoenix on May 29, 2010. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)
The Suns haven’t been to the playoffs since.
Well, there you have it.
Nash played more years in Phoenix than Barkley. His teams help set the stage for Golden State’s championship formula, but Nash never played for an NBA title.
His 1992-93 team gets the nod for having the best chance to win a championship, but Nash probably had more legit opportunities to win a title in Phoenix than Barkley.