The Phoenix Suns used boxing strategy against Seattle: Dan Majerle jabbing from long range and Charles Barkley providing the body blows.
Majerle delivered the knockout punch, drilling the last of his playoff-record eight 3-pointers with 21 seconds left to power the Suns over the SuperSonics 120-114 Tuesday night."This was one of the biggest shots of my career," Majerle said of his last-minute 3-pointer, which stopped short a Seattle comeback bid. "The other seven wouldn't have meant anything if the eighth one didn't go. If I miss, they have the ball and the last shot with a chance to win."
Actually, Majerle and the Suns did exactly what the Sonics wanted.
"You want him to take a shot like that to try to beat you; he just hit it. It was a heck of a shot," Seattle's Eddie Johnson said.
Barkley and Majerle had playoff career games to send Phoenix back to Seattle with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference finals.
Barkley had 43 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists - his third postseason triple-double and first in two years - and Majerle hit 8 of 10 shots from 3-point range to finish with 34 points.
"When's he's stroking it like that, it makes everything easier for us," Barkley said of Majerle's long-range bombing. "They were doubling on me and chasing Kevin (Johnson) so much, someone was going to be open."
Being open and making the shot are two different things, Phoenix coach Paul Westphal said.
"It's tough to make 8 of 10 in the gym, by yourself, with nobody on you," Westphal said.
"Barkley showed why he's the MVP, and Dan Majerle showed why he's an All-Star, but the Sonics showed us a lot, too," Westphal said. "They made us scratch all the way to the end."
The game was a classic barnburner.
There were 17 ties - including 28-28 after the first quarter - and 11 lead changes, and Shawn Kemp's 20 points in the fourth quarter helped the Sonics eat up a 10-point Phoenix lead in the final six minutes.
Kemp, who finished with 33 points, made it 111-110 with a 15-foot jumper with 34.5 seconds left.
The Suns had not scored since Barkley's putback of an offensive rebound with 2:37 left gave them a 111-102 lead. From then until Majerle released his climactic shot with the game on the line, Seattle looked like the team which stunned the Suns here 103-99 in Game 2.
Ricky Pierce made a 3-pointer and a free throw, and Sam Perkins made two more free throws before Kemp's baseline jumper.
"My shots had been going all night, and we really needed that one, so I let it go," said Majerle, who broke the record of seven 3-pointers set by Indiana's Chuck Person against Boston on April 28,1991.
"What can you say? When he sets his feet and has his rhythm, basically, he'll hit it," Seattle's Gary Payton said.
Pierce finished with 27 points and Payton 20. Kevin Johnson had 10 assists for the Suns.
Barkley hit 16 of 22 shots and was 11 of 11 from the foul line in surpassing his playoff personal best of 39 points. He had 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"Charles gives them great leadership by rebounding and pushing the ball," Seattle coach George Karl said. "He played very possessed and very aggressively, but my basketball team played very well, too."
Tom Chambers contributed nine fourth-quarter points to offset the quick-strike ability of Seattle, which had made up a 59-54 halftime deficit with an 11-4 spurt in the first 31/2 minutes of the third quarter.
Kemp's driving layup after Richard Dumas missed a dunk put the Sonics up 65-63. In the next three minutes, Majerle tied it three times - at 65, 67 and 72, the third time with a 3-pointer.
Chambers, who played only briefly until the fourth period, got his first points with a left-handed layup with 4:40 to play, tying it 74-74.
Back-to-back Majerle 3-pointers erased Seattle leads late in the quarter and lifted the Suns to an 84-81 third-quarter advantage.
Majerle also had seven rebounds, one better than anyone on the Sonics, as the Suns owned the boards 42-25. It was the first time since Game 1 the Suns have outrebounded Seattle.