Only Suns leave Chicago in party mood


PHOENIX -- Everything was in place for a wild celebration in Chicago on Friday night.

The champagne was on ice, the gleaming NBA championship trophy was within reach of commissioner David Stern, and an army of riot-trained police was prepared to quell a repeat of last year's looting and violence.

A few enterprising vendors already were taking the Bulls' threepeat mission a step farther, offering "four-play" T-shirts to the fanatics who filled Chicago Stadium.

But the Phoenix Suns found all this party planning presumptuous, if not downright rude.

Said Charles Barkley, leading the Suns' contingent back to Phoenix where the series, now 3-2, resumes tonight: "Their mayor was pleading, 'Don't destroy the city.' They've got the National Guard out in force. They've got all the stores boarded up on Michigan Avenue and all the merchandise was gone. I was getting worried. It started to look like my old neighborhood. That's rude. It's like selling off the estate before the person dies."

But the Suns, who are now 5-0 when facing elimination in this year's playoffs, were far from finished. Playing as carefree as kids in the schoolyard, they jumped on the Bulls from the opening tip, racing to a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

They would relinquish the lead briefly in the second quarter, but then quickly regained command. Despite 41 points by Michael Jordan, the Bulls never seriously threatened in the last quarter of Phoenix's 108-98 victory.

The Suns were not surprised by the ease of their victory, and the Bulls, now having to clinch the title on the road, were concerned.

"I told Michael at dinner Thursday that I believe in my heart it is our destiny, and that God wanted us to win the championship," said Barkley, who had 24 points and held Chicago forward Horace Grant to one point. "But Michael told me that I was reading the wrong bible."

Destiny or not, it's the Suns who now wear an air of confidence.

"We weren't feeling any pressure," said coach Paul Westphal, knowing that no team has rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.

"For us, the real pressure was when we were down 2-0 to the Lakers in the first playoff series. This was nothing compared to that. We're relaxed and playing hard. We've got guys who will stand up to any situation."

While Chicago has placed almost the entire burden of securing a third straight title in the hands of Jordan, averaging a record 42.6 points in the series, the Suns have exhibited an imposing array of offensive weapons, with Barkley, Kevin Johnson, rookie Richard Dumas, Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge all finding ways to frustrate the swarming Bulls' defense.

"They set the tempo, handled our traps and defensive pressure well," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson, forced to redesign his defensive scheme, particularly to neutralize the lightning-quick Dumas, who made 12 of his 14 shots Friday.

"On the offensive end, we stuttered and had some problems, but you have to attribute that to their defense."

The Suns were determined not to give Jordan free access to the lane for his slashing layups or easy assists to Grant or Scottie Pippen when their defense switched.

"We really had to step up and clog the middle," said Johnson, who has recovered from two shaky performances to start the series. "We couldn't give Jordan a clear path to the hoop."

Added Ainge, whose three-point shot late in the fourth quarter sealed it for the Suns: "We had to do a better job in transition. In Game 4, we didn't get all five guys back defensively and they were flying past us. This time, we were ready for them."

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