Phoenix Suns demonstrated Friday that they are a team for all tempos as they beat the Seattle SuperSonics at their own game to move within a single victory of advancing to the National Basketball Association championship series.
With their fast break having broken down, the Suns turned to a patterned, slowdown game and came away with a convincing 99-93 victory at the Seattle Kingdome.
After having dropped the first two games of the series, the versatile Suns have beaten the Sonics three straight times and can now win the Western Conference title at home Sunday (WDVM-TV-9, 3:45 p.m.).
If the Sonics manage to regroup and win Sunday, the seventh game of the series will be back at the Kingdome on Thursday.
"The more we play them, the better we do against them," said Phoenix forward Truck Robinson. "They pound the boards, but they don't shoot that well. We came down the floor and set up and played patterned basketball against the best defensive team in the league. I didn't want to play that way, out we were forced into it."
The Sonics slowed down the Phoenix fast break by keeping two men back on defense at all times. In the previous games, they sent four or five people to the offensive boards.
Paul Westphal, who led the Suns with 27 points Friday, cautioned his team that, "The Series still has a long way to go. We can't be thinking it's over just because we're going home. We're very cognizant of the fact that we don't have anything won yet."
"We hope to not have to go back to Seattle, but we aren't taking them lightly," added Walter Davis, who got into early foul trouble Friday but scored 15 second-half points.
The Sonics appear to be a demoralized crew, in the last three games, they have seen the Suns beat them in a running game once, beat them on the boards in another game and finally beat them in a slowdown contest.
"We just haven't been ourselves," said Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens. "We just aren't doing what we should be doing.We haven't played smart or anything. We know we can beat them because we've beaten them before, but we definitely have our work cut out for us."
Phoenix center Alvan Adams was left home Friday because of a sprained ankle and his substitute, Joel Klamer, got into early foul trouble. But the Suns were able to stay close in the first half. After intermission, they went with a front line of three forwards - Robinson, Davis and Gar Heard. They set up on offense and ran plays practically every time down the floor.
The plays were designed to isolate either Davis or Westphal and let them go one on one. What made that strategy so effective was that whenever Seattle tried to double-team either one of them, they would find an open man. It was a classic illustration of a smaller, quicker team outsmarting a bigger, stronger team.
There were two critical points in Friday's game. The first came in the final minute of the third quarter.
Seattle took a 66-59 lead on two Dennis Awtrey free throws with 1:04 left. But Phoenix then hurried the ball up court and Alvin Scott converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 66-62.
The Suns then came up with a surprise full-court press and the Sonics panicked. Fred Brown threw the inbounds pass away, then fouled Mike Bratz trying to get it back. Bratz made two free throws and the Suns ran the press again. This time, Johnny Johnson threw the inbounds pass away and Westphal scored on a layup to tie the game at 66.
Brown made a 20-foot jumper at the end of the period to give the Sonics a 68-66 lead going into the final quarter but they were reeling.
The other key Phoenix sequence came in a 51-second stretch of the final period when the Suns scored seven unanswered points.
With his team trailing 82-78 with 3:35 left, Davis scored on a three-point play against Johnny Johnson. Dennis Johnson then fumbled the ball away and Bratz drilled on a 20-footer. Lonnie Shelton took a bad shoot from the corner on Seattle's next possession, then fouled Westphal out of desperation at the other end of the floor. Westphal converted two free throws, the Suns had an 85-82 lead with 4:44 left and the Sonics never made a serious run after that.
The Suns, who blew the second game of the series by not making their free throws, made 17 of 18 at the foul line in the fourth quarter Friday, including their last 15 in a row. Their final 10 points came at the line.
"What turned it around was that press," said Awtrey. "We just didn't handle it. Anytime you know the press is coming, you ought to be able to handle it.But they got a couple of quick baskets and got psyched up.
"You don't want to go into the last five minutes against a team like Phoenix with the game up in the air. But we fiddled around and fiddled around and . . ."
Phoenix has been playing without Adams and the way Jack Sikma has been playing. Seattle might be better off without him.
The 6-11 Sikma, playing against two one taller than 6-7, had a three-for-13 night Friday. In the three previous games he went two for 13, five for 13 and four for 17.
"I'm just not putting the ball in the hole," Sikma said. If you aren't putting it in, then the other team doesn't have to play any defense at all."