clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ranking The Phoenix Suns Western Conference Finals Failures

With the Western Conference Finals in full swing let's take a look at the times the Suns have reached that stage and fallen short.

As everyone reading this knows, the Suns have yet to win an NBA Championship. What they have done is appear in the Western Conference Finals on 9 different occasions.They took the conference title home in both 1976 and 1993 but that leaves seven times where the team has made the Conference Finals and fallen short.

What better way to revisit those seven failures by ranking them by how generally disappointing they were. Disappointment comes in many flavors but for purposes of this list the failures will be ranked based on the quality of the Suns team and the quality of their opponent. So if you coming into a series you're not supposed to win and you get swept - hard to call that a big failure. 

Let's rank em. 

(7)  1984  v. Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)


Phoenix was coming out of one of the most successful eras in their franchise history to that point making six playoff appearances between 1978 and 1983 In order to shake things up Jerry Colangelo decided it was a good idea to trade Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey. Not so surprisingly that helped the Suns reduce their win total by 12 in 1983-84.

So you'll have to excuse the NBA when they were surprised by the 41-41 Suns upsetting the Blazers in five games in the first round and pulling the same trick on second seeded Utah in six games in Round 2.

The Lakers had won a mere 54 games but had already been in the Finals three of the previous four seasons - winning two championships. You'd have to excuse them when they were under the impression their only real NBA competition was the Boston Celtics.


  • Suns - Walter Davis (All-Star), Larry Nance, Maurice Lucas
  • Lakers - Magic Johnson (All-NBA 1st Team), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (All-Defensive 2nd Team, All-Star), Byron Scott (All-Rookie), Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy


Magic and the Lakers were right - their only real competition in the NBA was the Boston Celtics. Los Angeles blasted the Suns by 16 in both Games 1 and 2.

After those two games the Suns actually did keep the series quite interesting. Phoenix won Game 3 in overtime and after they were again beaten by double-digits in Game 4, they avoided elimination in Game 5 back in LA. The Suns had a chance to win Game 6 but fell just two points short.

That said - nearly impossible to find failure in taking a .500 team to the Western Conference Finals and losing to a perennial power. 

(6)  1989  v. Los Angeles Lakers (4-0)


In the three seasons leading up to 1988-89 the Suns missed the playoffs each year and were never really that close - maxing out at 36 wins. Not to mention they were just a few seasons removed from an exciting drug scandal, what team doesn't love one of those. 

Jerry Colangelo made the team over completely, hiring Cotton Fitzsimmons as coach, signing Tom Chambers as the NBA's first unrestricted free agent, and trading for Kevin Johnson and Mark West the previous season. With all the new personnel the Suns won 55 games - an astounding 27 win improvement. In the playoffs the Suns swept Denver and beat overmatched Golden State in five games.

While the Suns had spent the previous three seasons sucking pretty badly, the Lakers spent them winning championships. Los Angeles was the two-time defending champs and had won five titles overall with effectively the same Magic-Kareem core.

An uninspiring 57-win season preceded back to back playoff sweeps of Portland and Seattle to put the Lakers in range of their 8th NBA Finals appearance in 10 seasons.   


  • Suns - Tom Chambers (All-NBA 2nd Team), Kevin Johnson (All-NBA 2nd Team, Most Improved Player), Eddie Johnson (Sixth Man of the Year)
  • Lakers - Magic Johnson (NBA MVP), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (All-Star), James Worthy (All-Star), A.C. Green (All-Defensive 2nd Team)


Let's call a spade a spade - the Suns were happy to be here and the multi-time champion Lakers were looking to make a championship run in their last season with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Phoenix kept each game of the series relatively close, never losing by more than eight points, but the Lakers were just better and prevailed in a fairly comfortable sweep. Sweep notwithstanding it was hard to be disappointed with the results of the season. 

(5)  2010  v. Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)


Plain and simple, one of these teams was expected to be here and the other one was not. Los Angeles came into the 2009-2010 season as the defending NBA champs and two-time Western Conference champs. With the postseason success in their rear view mirror they effectively slept walked through the season and still finished with 57 wins and the best record in the West.

The Suns on the other hand had missed the playoffs the previous season and in the eyes of most were viewed as a team who's best days were behind them. Though Phoenix opened 14-3 they seemed to vindicate the skeptics with a 12-18 stretch that saw them sitting at 26-21 amid talk of dealing star forward Amar'e Stoudemire. 

Yet Phoenix got their act together and ripped off a 28-7 stretch to finish the season third in the West. After dispatching the Blazers and sweeping their long time rivals in San Antonio, they burst into the Western Finals. 


  • Suns - Steve Nash (All-NBA 2nd Team), Amar'e Stoudemire (All-NBA 2nd Team), Jason Richardson
  • Lakers - Kobe Bryant (All-NBA 1st Team, All-Defensive First Team), Pau Gasol (All-NBA 3rd Team), Lamar Odom


Each team played their expected roles in Game 1 and 2 in Los Angeles as the Lakers rolled the Suns by 21 points in Game 1 and 12 points in Game 2. Frankly the games weren't even that competitive. Though Robin Lopez had returned from an injury that had kept him out for a few months, the Lakers owned the boards and scored on the Suns at will.

Come Game 3 the Suns needed big performances from their stars to put together a competitive series - and Stoudemire answered the bell. Led by 42 and 11 from Amar'e the Suns took Game 3. In Game 4 the Suns reliable bench took over, outscoring the Lakers bench 54-20 and helping the Suns to pull away for a win to put the series even.

Most of us remember Game 5 like it happened yesterday, the Suns opened hot but the Lakers took an 18 point lead in the third quarter. A furious fourth quarter rally spearheaded by Steve Nash and a banked three pointer by Jason Richardson had the game tied with 3.5 seconds left. Then Kobe Bryant airballed a three and Ron Artest tipped it home for the win at the buzzer.

Unable to overcome the disappointment of Game 5 the Suns failed to really ever get traction in Game 6 and despite a Slovenian Civil War that resulted in Goran Dragic attempting to single-handedly drag the Suns to a win - the team fell short.

The reason this series is so low on the disappointment list is because of the expectations heading in. Obviously, if the Game 5 gut punch goes the other way the Suns could have changed history - but it didn't. 

(4)  2005  v. San Antonio Spurs (4-1)


The Suns 2004-2005 team pretty much came out of nowhere. Though they had Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in place the team had missed the playoffs the previous season and was knocked out in the first round the season before that. Combining Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni changed that. 

Now a fast breaking machine running on Canadian power the Suns tied their franchise high with 62 wins, good enough for the NBA's best record. A sweep of the Grizzlies and a hard fought six game series win against Steve Nash's former teammates in Dallas got the Suns to the Conference Finals.

At this point San Antonio was already a two-time champion and had one of the NBA's Top 5 players in Tim Duncan. So you could excuse them when they won a mere 59 games. With their foil of previous seasons in Los Angeles having traded Shaquille O'Neal they rightfully viewed the Western Conference as theirs for the taking. 


  • Suns - Steve Nash (NBA MVP), Amar'e Stoudemire (All-NBA 2nd Team), Shawn Marion (All-NBA 3rd Team), Joe Johnson
  • Spurs - Tim Duncan (All-NBA 1st Team), Manu Ginobili (All-Star), Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen (All-Defensive 1st Team)


Obviously the Spurs had a championship pedigree while the Suns were the new kids on the block so the final result of this series probably wasn't an enormous surprise. Yet was probably didn't do the Suns any favors in this series was star shooting guard Joe Johnson missing the first two games of the series after suffering a broken orbital bone in the previous series.

Phoenix led going into the 4th quarter in each of the first two losses and it's obviously quite difficult to win a series after dropping two straight at home.

Amar'e Stoudemire averaged 37 points for the series and Johnson returned in Game 3 but the Spurs ability to close a game and likely familiarity playing in these types of games was too much for the Suns to overcome. 

(3)  2006  v. Dallas Mavericks (4-2)


Coming off a 62-win 2005 campaign the Suns had predictably high championship aspirations. That seemingly changed in preseason when Amar'e Stoudemire went down with a knee injury. Apparently people forgot to tell Steve Nash and Shawn Marion.

Each man stepped up to career highs in points - with Nash scoring 18.8 a game and Matrix going for 21.8 along with 11.8 rebounds. What also helped fill the void was the presence of perceived draft bust Boris Diaw who came over in the Joe Johnson trade and begun to fulfill his potential as a multi-talented point forward.

As for Dallas they'd been a regular contender for the previous several seasons but hadn't been beyond the 2nd round since Steve Nash left. Behind a ridiculous 26.6 point per game season from Dirk Nowitzki they won 60 games. 

Phoenix rallied from 3-1 down to slay the Lakers in the 1st round and went another seven to take down the Clippers in the 2nd. Dallas on the other hand was a fourth seed despite their 60 wins but made quick work of Memphis before upsetting 63-win San Antonio in seven to make the Conference Finals. 


  • Suns - Steve Nash (NBA MVP), Shawn Marion (All-NBA 3rd Team), Boris Diaw (Most Improved Player), Raja Bell
  • Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzki (All-NBA 1st Team), Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse


Dallas held home court advantage as a product of their superior record (though they were a lower seed) but when Boris Diaw dumped in 34 points and a game winner in the first contest the Suns shifted that. 

In Game 2 the Suns took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter but fell. It was much the same story in Game 3 when the Suns held an 11-point first half lead but the Mavs clamped down and held Phoenix to just 36 second half points. 

The Suns rolled in Game 4 but in the crucial Game 5, Nowitzki took his game to the next level. The large German posted 50 points on 14/26 shooting to give the Mavericks control of the series. The Suns raced out to a 15 point lead in the first quarter of Game 6 but Dallas chipped away for the next two quarters before cruising 40-27 in the fourth for the Western crown. 

One of the primary reasons this one ranks so high is that the Suns had defeated Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals the previous season and held a 1-0 lead. Certainly not having Stoudemire didn't help but this was a winnable series.   

(2)  1990  v. Portland Trail Blazers


Where the 1989 Conference Finals run was surprising and exciting, the 1990 run was expected. Phoenix won 54 games on the season with much of the same core as the previous season. The big tricks for the Suns was getting by their eternal foe the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals in five games. Even though the team had already been to the NBA Finals in their franchise history beating the Lakers may have been the greatest series win for the franchise.

Portland had been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each of the last three seasons but with Rick Adelman in his first full season were able to win 59 games and nab the third seed in the West. The Blazers swept Dallas and took down higher seed San Antonio in seven to reach the Conference Finals. 


  • Suns - Kevin Johnson (All-NBA 2nd Team), Tom Chambers (All-NBA 2nd Team), Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle
  • Blazers - Clyde Drexler (All-NBA 3rd Team), Terry Porter, Buck Williams (All-Defensive 1st Team), Kevin Duckworth


Each of these teams had to have been pleased to see the other with the idea of the 63-win Lakers as the alternative. Portland held the general edge with home court advantage but it could easily be argued that the Suns had the superior talent. 

Portland won Games 1 and 2 at home but did so by a combined total of three points. That seemed all the more frustrating for Suns fans when Phoenix rolled by double digits in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Blazers took Game 5 back at their place and then finished the series in Phoenix.

For the whole of the series the Suns lost four games by a total of 12 points. Sometimes the team you play in the Conference Finals is way better than you - Portland was not that much better than the Suns. 

(1)      1979  v. Seattle Supersonics (4-3)


Back in the days when Seattle actually had a team they enjoyed some of their greatest success in the late 70s. Heading into the 1978-79 season they were the defending Western Conference champs and had fallen in seven games to the Bullets in the NBA Finals. Obviously expectations were relatively high. 

The Suns on the other hand were coming off a disappointing first round loss to the Bucks after a 49-win season. Though they got off to a solid start the following season they made a move with the eyes on the ultimate prize when they dealt for Utah's Truck Robinson. 

Seattle and Phoenix had the first and second best records in the West heading into the playoffs (52 and 50 wins respectively) and were seemingly on a collision course for the WCF. After the Suns brushed aside Portland and Kansas City and Seattle took out the Lakers in five - the matchup was on. 


  • Suns - Paul Westphal (All-NBA 1st Team), Walter Davis (All-NBA 2nd Team), Truck Robinson Don Buse (All-Defensive 1st Team)
  • Sonics - Dennis Johnson (All-Defensive 1st Team, All-Star), Gus Williams, Jack Sikma (All-Star)


Seattle won Game 1 in convincing fashion (108-93) and edged Phoenix in Game 2 to take a 2-0 lead back to the Valley.  Not to be deterred, the Suns won their two games back at the Madhouse on McDowell and has the saying goes - there isn't a series until someone wins a game on the road. Thus it was a best of three. 

Though the Suns hadn't won a game in Seattle in the past two seasons they managed to sneak out a 99-93 decision and put themselves one game from the NBA Finals. But it wasn't just the fact that they'd have a game, they'd have a game at home to get it done. 

In what was probably a franchise changing game, the Suns lost by one despite leading the game in the fourth quarter. With home court advantage back in their hands, the Sonics opened a big lead in Game 7 and held off a Phoenix rally (they cut a eight-point lead to two in just 19 seconds) to seal the series.