The Phoenix Suns put themselves back into contention in the NBA Finals on Sunday night with a 129-121 triple-overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls.
The Suns lost the only other triple-overtime game in Finals history, to Boston in 1976.
The Bulls lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, with Game 4 Wednesday night in Chicago. The Bulls, trying to become the third team to win three consecutive NBA titles, also play host to Game 5 Friday night.
Suns forward Charles Barkley was hampered by a swollen right elbow that had to be drained before the game. But he managed 24 points and 19 rebounds.
"This was the greatest basketball game I ever played in," Barkley said. "I actually didn't care who won or lost."
The Suns gave Barkley plenty of support for the first time in the series. Kevin Johnson bounced back from an abysmal opening two games to score 25 points in a playoffs-record 62 minutes. Dan Majerle added 28 points and Richard Dumas 17. Majerle tied a Finals record with six three-pointers.
"When I walked into Chicago, I had a lot of fans here," Johnson said. "They were cheering me because I guess they liked the way I played in Game 1 and 2.
"It was the law of averages. After having two poor games, I was due to have a good one. I feel pretty exhausted but it feels good when you win."
Asked if he wanted to come out at any time, Johnson said no. "In the second half, it's just a matter of emotion," he said. "You'll do anything to win."
Johnson played all but the final 20 seconds of the 63-minute game. He had 25 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. In the first two games, he totaled 15 points, eight assists and two rebounds. He also hounded Michael Jordan, who led all scorers with 44 points but was 19-of-43 from the field.
"I thought to give him that challenge might take his mind off his offensive troubles," Phoenix coach Paul Westphal said. "It would give them a different look."
Scottie Pippen added 26 points for Chicago, which attempted just nine free throws to Phoenix's 31.
Majerle's sixth three-pointer, with 3:03 left in the third overtime, gave the Suns a 119-118 lead. Barkley followed with a breakaway dunk with 2:39 left. Barkley then stole a pass under the Bulls' basket from Stacey King and scored again with 1:43 left for a 123-118 lead.
The only other three-overtime game in the Finals was June
4, 1976, when Phoenix lost to Boston 128-126 and went on to lose the series 4-2. Westphal, who played for the Suns in that game 17 years ago, was asked if he saw any similarities between the two thrillers.
"The biggest difference is this time the good guys won," he said.
Scott Williams' only points of the game and a basket by Jordan gave Chicago a 111-107 edge with 2:03 left in the second overtime before Majerle followed his miss for just the Suns' third basket in 14 minutes.
Jordan, who missed eight of nine shots in one stretch, hit his second in a row for a 113-109 lead with 1:18 remaining, then exchanged free throws with Barkley for a 114-110 edge with 40 seconds to go. But a basket by Barkley and a 20-foot jumper by Majerle with 3.2 seconds left meant a third OT.
The score was tied at 103 from 1:33 of regulation until 3:31 remained in the first overtime, when Pippen hit a jumper. Phoenix tied it on two free throws by Barkley with 1:43 left in overtime.
Johnson, limited to a total of 15 points and eight assists with nine turnovers in the first two games, came out strong in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points in the first 3:31, helping Phoenix to a 94-88 lead with 8:29 left.
"I told him if he ever needed a rest to let me know, but I'm so happy for him," Westphal said. "That guy's taken a beating in the press and from the fans."
Danny Ainge hit two free throws and a three-pointer, giving the Suns a 99-88 advantage 52 seconds later. The Bulls, who missed 10 of their first 11 shots in the period, then got consecutive baskets from Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong and Jordan to cut it to 101-96 with 4:03 left.
A dunk by Pippen and a tip by Grant made it 101-100 with 2:46 left, but Barkley snapped the 10-0 run with a reverse layup 21 seconds later. Grant tied it at 103 with a dunk and free throw at 1:33, then neither team scored on four possessions apiece, forcing OT.