PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns talked of destiny throughout this season, and then throughout these playoffs as they held off final defeat in five different games. But destiny is something to be achieved, and so it finally, inevitably, belonged to the Chicago Bulls here last night in the NBA Finals.
And the victory for the so-called threepeat was symbolically earned with John Paxson's three, a three-point field goal that left a city and a team stunned and gasping.
"For it to be over so quickly, that's the thing," said Charles Barkley, sitting still stunned in his locker stall some 30 minutes after the game, a towel draped over his shoulder and beads of sweat rolling down his thick neck. "You do something for six, seven, eight months and then it's over. In one quick jumper. Just like that. It's hard to take."
Hard to accept because the Suns came so close, felt they had played so well in doing the unthinkable in winning two of three in Chicago, and then holding a four-point lead on the Bulls with under a minute left.
"I can't remember ever feeling as disappointed as I do now," said Danny Ainge, the victim of finals defeats with three different teams.
"We talked all year about not getting beat off the dribble, about allowing dribble penetration," said Ainge, "but that's what happens in the last two possessions. Michael Jordan dribbles the length of the floor for a layup and then Scottie Pippen gets the ball and gives to Horace Grant, who hits Paxson. Giving up baskets like we did then is very frustrating."
"I'm not taking anything away from Chicago, they're worthy champions," said Ainge, his eyes red and his voice shaking just slightly. "Last year when we lost to Chicago [with Portland], there was no question in my mind who was the best team. I don't have that same feeling today. This loss is going to be a lot harder to live with. I don't believe the best team won."
But the Bulls are the best team, both on the record and in truth, even if it's tough for the vanquished to accept.
"We'll feel better about ourselves a month from now," said Barkley. "But we don't feel too good now."
The Suns shouldn't feel too badly. It was a championship-caliber team they lose to. A veteran like Paxson waiting for his opportunity and Horace Grant, badly maligned during the last two games, worked as hard as he ever did and wouldn't stop. And because he wouldn't stop, the Bulls won.
He made the critical pass with Paxson wide open for the dagger-in-the-season jumper.
"It looked like Pippen was going in for the shot or the pass off to Horace," said Ainge. "Horace's man stepped up to take Pippen so I stepped back and was going to foul Grant when he caught the ball and, like a hot potato, he threw it back out to Paxson. We all just reacted. Tough play."
Then there was Grant working hard on the other end as the Suns went for the win with 3.9 seconds left. He blocked Kevin Johnson's short jumper to cinch it.
"No foul," admitted Johnson, who had 19 points and 10 assists to back up Barkley's 21 points and 17 rebounds and 21 points from Dan Majerle.
Chicago, which won all three games in Phoenix, jumped to an early lead once again here, putting a quick double team on Barkley, thus forcing him into more outside jumpers.
"Their defense was good," agreed Barkley.
The Bulls also forced pesky Richard Dumas out wide, where he was ineffective shooting jumpers and chased Phoenix into several small lineups to try to limit the Suns' sudden rebounding margin.
The wild finish was made possible when the Bulls came out flat in the fourth quarter, But Jordan stepped in to fill the void when nothing would work for anyone else.
"The Bulls are worthy champions," agreed Suns coach Paul Westphal. "We did what we had to do to win. We played a sensational game. We beat them in every area but the final score. It's a credit to our guys and a credit to the Bulls."
"It's difficult for our team right now," said Barkley. "We kind of hurt. People don't understand. At times like this it's no fun to be an athlete. You're human and you do have feelings. I won't say we're better than the Bulls. But we feel we're as good. We feel like we could have won four games by now, so it hurts."
"These were two teams on a mission," said Barkley. "We said from Day 1 of training camp we wanted to be in the finals. That was our goal and that was something to accomplish. But when you get there you want to win. We could have. It was a tense situation for everyone. But right now we didn't get what we wanted. We're like all the teams in the NBA but the Bulls. Only one team gets the prize."