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Survival is the Suns' specialty

Maybe the Bulls worried that boneheaded Chicago "celebrants" would torch their town. Maybe they feared being branded a 1993 sequel to Mrs. O'Leary's cow.

Maybe they opted to be humanitarians, watering down chances of Chicago being burned _ again _ in a shameful afterglow of a Bulls home clinching of a third consecutive NBA championship.


Phoenix dramatically and heroically outplayed Chicago. Friday night, the Bulls were a lopsided second best. No "three-peat" at Chicago Stadium, just "de-feat!"

It's a city stunned, not smoking.

"Y'all in Chicago can take the plywood off your windows now," Charles Barkley said. "There's no reason to celebrate anything. Hearing the mayor of Chicago on TV, warning against hell-raising over a three-peat by the Bulls, was quite a motivator for us.

"All's quiet on Michigan Avenue.

"God wants us to win. It's destiny."

Who on the basketball-shaped Earth, after the Bulls conked the Suns in Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix, would have predicted two Purple Gang knockouts in three rounds at Chicago Stadium?

There will be a Game 6. If the back-to-back world champs from Chicago do not awaken from their sudden slumber, there also could be a Game 7 in Phoenix. Maybe even (are you listening, Michael Jordan?) a record NBA Finals collapse and no Bulls celebration at all.

Never? Don't say that. Not now. Not after Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Richard Dumas and their fellow Suns have come to Chicago and double-embarrassed the Bulls in their own 70-year-old basketball pit.

Five times in these playoffs, Phoenix has faced a lose-and-you're-gone game. Thrice against the Los Angeles Lakers, a loss would have erased the Suns. It happened once against Seattle, and then Friday night in Chicago. On death row, the Suns are on a 5-0 wonder streak.

Will it ever end?

Are we talking miracle?

If the Bulls are to walk away from these NBA Finals with the look of a champion, there had better be some soul surgery on some tall and frowning Chicagoans by the time they get back to Phoenix.

No team ever has been reborn from 1-and-3 ashes to win an NBA Finals. But this is a bird called Phoenix. The Suns have created such an opportunity.

No matter what happens in Game 6 and/or 7 at America West Arena, coach Paul Westphal and his Suns have _ amid Chicago bedlam _ indelibly stamped themselves as heroic contenders.

They fully controlled Game 5.

Instantly, the Bulls were bears.

At the opening tipoff, Chicago's men started emitting gasping sounds. Da Bulls were tighter than a working family's budget. After nine minutes, Barkley had 11 points and his Suns led 27-15. Chicago bottomed out at a deficit of 33-17.

Chicago Stadium was wailing, praying and wondering. Cursing at referees. Begging. Finally, the patrons were granted a rally. Ignited, for a change, by someone other than pointmeister Jordan. Scottie Pippen began to shed his Game 4 timidity with a brace of arena-rocking dunks.

Reinforcements were coming.

B.J. Armstrong was achieving little, so John Paxson relieved as Bulls point guard. The old Notre Damer may be slow afoot, but he's a fast-draw shooter. Paxson gunned three quick three-pointers. Eighteen thousand grins broke out, at least temporarily.

Phoenix's lead was melting.

Eleven straight Chicago points shrank it to 33-28. "Three-peat! Three-peat!" the crowd chanted. Momentum was switching colors, from road purple to home white. Jordan made an 18-footer and the Bulls finally were leading, 43-42. In an eight-minute blitz, they had outscored Phoenix 26-9.

Was it over?

No chance. Not with the gutsy death-row Suns attitude. Not with Chicago's habit of late-in-the-quarter NBA Finals fumble fetishes. Not with the 1992-93 Bulls' continuing absence of killer instinct.

Barkley's brilliance despite a bum right elbow, even though overshadowed through this Finals week by Jordan's 43-point-a-game dramatics, wasn't about to subside.

Will it ever?

By the time they get to Phoenix