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Westphal relives history, sort of

As the overtimes kept passing, Paul Westphal kept going back in time.

Seventeen years ago he played for Phoenix in the first triple overtime game in the NBA Finals. Sunday night, he coached the Suns in the second triple overtime game in the finals.

"Then it was easier to play," Westphal said. "Now it's easier to coach. It's all the same pressure-wise. It's as intense as it gets."

He wasn't concerned with reliving history _ Phoenix lost that 1976 marathon 128-126. He wants to make it by winning this year's title. The Suns beat the Chicago Bulls, 129-121 Sunday night.

"I wasn't really thinking about 1976. I was just trying to win the game," Westphal said.

Westphal considers the 1976 game _ a fifth-game loss in a six-game series won by Boston _ irrelevant to his team's current struggle. But he understands why comparisons are a hot topic.

"I'm glad people remember that game," he said. "I think it was one of the most emotional, important games of all time, and it's one of the things that helped put the NBA on the map. It's games like that that make this game special."

It was June 4, 1976 in Boston.

John Havlicek scored in the final seconds of the second overtime, giving the Celtics a 111-110 lead. Fans poured onto the floor. Fights broke out. Referee Richie Powers was attacked by a fan.

But the game wasn't over. Powers held up two fingers. Two seconds were left. The floor was cleared. But Phoenix had to take the ball out under the Boston basket.

Then Westphal called a timeout he knew the Suns didn't have.

"We knew that we could advance the ball to halfcourt if we took a timeout, and we paid the penalty, which is one free throw," he said Monday.

Jo Jo White made it, but Phoenix got the ball at midcourt. The tactic worked. Garfield Heard hit a jumper at the buzzer that sent the game into the third overtime.

Boston eventually prevailed. Westphal and Ricky Sobers led the Suns with 25 points each.

"I knew it was a great game to have played in right away," Westphal said. "But the idea as a player or as a coach is not to put together a great game. It's to win the game and to try to win the series."