Alex Stivrins, who had been on the roster several times but then released, was also down there wearing a shirt and Levi's. Stivrins had just returned to town after playing in the championship series of the Continental Basketball Association. The lights went down and the sound of the music was deafening as the Suns' starting players were announced.

As the starters trotted onto the floor, they were pummeled with affection by the nonstarters. I wondered if there was a reason for this. The only player who didn't receive a heavy jostling was Barkley, the last one to be introduced. Now everyone in the arena was on his feet. The Gorilla was clapping rhythmically. The lights went up and the players walked to their places on the floor. This was the decisive game.

No team had ever finished first as the Suns had done and lost the first two games of the opening playoff series. But no team had come back from losing the first two on its home court and then won the next three in a row, either.

I remembered what Paul Westphal had said in his press conference after losing the second straight to the Lakers.

"We're going over there [Los Angeles] and we're going to win Tuesday. Then, we're going to win over there Thursday. Then, we're coming home next Sunday and we're going to win again, and then everyone can say it was a great series."
Why would he put himself on the spot like that?
@rule:

@body:All season long, I have brought a radio to the game and listened to Al McCoy and Cotton Fitzsimmons as they broadcast.

You must understand where they are coming from. Listening to McCoy describe the Suns in action is like listening to Jerry Colangelo. Fitzsimmons, on the other hand, views the game as a coach. The best thing about Fitzsimmons is that he really knows and understands the game and its history. He spots trends, good or bad, before anyone else in the house. Listening to him, you are never surprised when a team rallies. He has prepared you for that eventuality.

You can't really tell who is going to win the game by what takes place in the first quarter.

The Suns jumped off to a 7-0 lead, but within a few minutes, the Lakers struck back and the Suns were trailing 10-9. And Barkley was missing shots. After the opening salvo, the Suns made only three of 11 shots.

The pace of the game was the most worrisome thing. The Suns wanted to play fast-break basketball, but the Lakers succeeded in slowing the pace. If the Suns were going to win, they would have to do it by playing half-court basketball, something the Lakers did better.

The score was tied at 24-all at the end of the first quarter, and the Suns led 46-45 at the half. The Suns led by seven points going into the fourth quarter, and then it was all tied up at the end of regulation play.

It was only a tremendous shot by Majerle in the final minute that helped the Suns gain a tie. Then it was overtime. And it was Oliver Miller who then came into his own.

Who was the most valuable player in the game? When the Suns win one this way, they all step up to be counted. Kevin Johnson showed how important he is to this team. It simply can't win big games without him. Barkley was dominating and courageous under the boards.

Majerle delivered his guttiest performance of the season and demonstrated once again why his number will eventually be placed in the rafters of the arena.

@rule:
@body:After the game, the media crowd around Barkley was as large as they get for the Super Bowl or the World Series. Oliver Miller, Tom Chambers and Jerrod Mustaf, who have adjoining lockers, left the area quickly to avoid the crowd.

Barkley came in from the shower and sat down. There were three television cameras, as well as still photographers, in the group. There were more than a dozen microphones.

Barkley is used to all this. He is widely regarded as being the best interview in the NBA. Only Michael Jordan comes close, but Barkley is considered better because he can be counted on to say any outrageous thing that comes into his mind.

Much of what Barkley says does not make the papers because editors feel his expressions may be too shocking for average family taste.

A man asked, "How does it feel, Chuck, after a week in which you guys were criticized pretty severely?"

"You got to take all this stuff with a grain of salt," Barkley said. "Last week at this time, we were dog meat. That's why you have to do your own thing.

"I don't give a shit what people say about me or write about me. I keep things in perspective."
Barkley signaled for a hanger-on to bring him another beer from the cooler.
"Did you see Coach Westphal coming of age this week?" a writer from The Sporting News asked.

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