CHICAGO -- There was a telling moment at the close of the second overtime of last night's NBA slam-dance marathon.
Scottie Pippen's running, one-handed, off-balance bank shot had just rattled in and out. The horn sounded. The game was going to a third overtime.
Charles Barkley smiled, patted Scott Williams on the rump, and said, "Are you tired yet?"
Small talk. But infinitely gracious.
There are rare nights in sports when the competition and excitement of the event supersede the distinction between winning and losing. This was one of those nights.
Last night Phoenix beat Chicago, 129-121, in triple overtime in the third game of the NBA Finals. It was an epic battle, not unlike Boston's pulsating, triple-overtime victory over the Suns at Boston Garden in Game 5 of the 1976 Finals.
"I went up to Scottie and said, 'This is unbelievable, isn't it?' " Danny Ainge said after the victory. "We were standing about waiting for the center jump and we all kind of stood in the middle saying, 'Is this fun or what?' "
Fun. Competition. Players pushing it to the edge of the envelope. Exhaustion.
The Barkley and Ainge remarks were reminiscent of Pete Rose's comments at home plate after midnight in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
"Some game, isn't it?" Rose said to Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.
Chicago Stadium last night felt like Fenway '75 and the Garden '76.
Some of the final numbers are numbing. Barkley had 24 points and 19 rebounds in 53 minutes. Horace Grant, the only player who fouled out, had 17 rebounds. The Bulls took only nine free throws in 63 minutes. Williams came off the bench and played 46 minutes. Six players scored 20 or more points. Kevin Johnson guarded Michael Jordan and played 62 of 63 minutes.
Try this on for size: Jordan and Pippen combined to take 78 shots. If they had made every shot they took (including three-pointers and free throws) Jordan would have scored 101 and Pippen 72. Wow.
Getting his first glance at the stat sheet, Barkley said, "Man, Michael Jordan shot the ball 43 times. He's going to be icing his elbow."
Celtics fans had to be reminded of the 1976 classic that featured dueling desperation shots by John Havlicek and the immortal Garfield Heard.
Phoenix coach Paul Westphal was an All-Star guard with the Suns in 1976. He vividly remembers Havlicek's clutch drive and Heard's desperation shot that put the game into a third overtime.
"There were certainly a lot of similarities," said Westphal. "It was the Finals. We were on the road. But the biggest difference is that in '76 the first three quarters were pretty ragged. Plus, the good guys won this time. I think people will be talking about this game for 20 years."
The victory served to show the world that the 1993 Phoenix Suns are not as spineless as we were beginning to think they were.
Phoenix led by 11 with six minutes left in regulation, but scored only two points the rest of the way. The score of the first overtime was 4-4.
These were goats in the making. It looked like the Suns were going down 3-0, and they were choking. But they dug in. They survived the second overtime and Dan Majerle's long jumper pushed it to a third extra frame.
Johnson and Majerle (28 points, six three-pointers) hit big baskets to start the third overtime, then Barkley made a steal after an inbounds pass and dunked to give Phoenix a seven-point lead. With 40.9 seconds left, Ainge hit a pair of free throws to make it 127-120 and people started to file out of Chicago Stadium.
No brooms this week. The Suns have risen. They even think they can take this thing back west. This series is like the 1986 World Series. The road team has won every game. This is not your father's NBA.
But last night's game wasn't about winning and losing. It was about sports. "This was the greatest basketball game I ever played in," said Barkley. "I actually didn't even care who won or lost. I think that personally we gave it everything we had. It's not about winning or losing."
It reminded us why all these guys started playing games in the first place. It was fun.