The Chicago Bulls have done it _ again and again and again. And by winning their third consecutive championship in dramatic fashion Sunday, they established a place for themselves in basketball history.
With John Paxson making a game-winning three-pointer and Horace Grant making a game-saving defensive play, the Bulls outlasted the Phoenix Suns 99-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Chicago became the first team to win three consecutive titles since the Boston Celtics won eight in a row between 1959 and 1966. The Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54) were the only other team to accomplish the feat.
Led by Michael Jordan, who was named the most valuable player in the Finals for the third consecutive year, the Bulls did it the hard way: winning all three of their road games during the series.
"At the beginning of the playoffs," Jordan said, "I kind of put my foot in my mouth when I said that (repeating) would be easy. It was a lot harder than anything I've done in basketball."
Jordan joined Magic Johnson as the only player to be named Finals MVP three times. No other player has won the award three years in a row.
Paxson's shot was a 25-foot three-pointer from the left wing with 3.9 seconds left. Grant, who made the pass to Paxson, then made the game-saving defensive play, blocking a floating 7-footer by Kevin Johnson with one second left. Johnson had taken a pass from Oliver Miller and driven into the lane, but Grant made a clean block from the side. The final buzzer sounded, and the Bulls began to celebrate, hugging each other before a stunned crowd at the America West
"You play all year and then it comes down to this _ every eye in the arena following the ball," Phoenix coach Paul Westphal said of the shot. "It seemed as if the ball was in the air for an hour. It was a great shot. We lost to a great team."
Paxson's game-winner was set up after a Bulls timeout with 13.1 seconds left and with the Suns leading 98-96. Jordan brought the ball downcourt and passed to Scottie Pippen (23 points, 12 rebounds) at the top of the key. Pippen drove the lane, then threw a bounce pass to Grant, who was about 5 feet from the basket. Grant spotted Paxson beyond the three-point circle, made the pass and Paxson made the shot.
"You just catch it and you shoot it," Paxson said. "I've done it hundreds of thousands of times in my life."
Paxson was the first Bull other than Jordan to score during the fourth quarter, as the Bulls scored only 12 points during the final period _ a record for the Finals.
Jordan scored 33 points for the Bulls and finished with the highest scoring average in Finals history, 41.0, eclipsing Rick Barry's 1967 mark of 40.8.
The Suns, who held Chicago without a field goal for the first 6:39 of the fourth quarter, led 98-94 before Jordan's court-length drive for a layup cut the lead to two. Dan Majerle's airball caused a 24-second violation, setting up Paxson's winner.
Chicago blew an 87-79 lead in the fourth quarter and was just 5-of-18 from the floor in the final period. The Suns, who got 21 points and 17 rebounds from Charles Barkley and 21 points from Majerle, were 5-for-21 in the final period and missed seven of their last eight shots.
"We never could get a hold of this basketball team," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "They found ways to squiggle out. We're very fortunate to come out with a win."
WHO'S THE BEST?
The candidates for the NBA's all-time greatest team. Call before 7 p.m. today. Calls are 49 each.
1952-54 MINNEAPOLIS LAKERS 1-900-246-1112
1952: 40-26, won title; 1953: 48-22, won title; 1954: 46-26, won title. Key players: Mikan, Mikkelsen, Pollard
1963-65 BOSTON CELTICS 1-900-246-1113
1963: 58-22, won title; 1964: 59-21, won title; 1965: 62-18, won title. Key players: Sam Jones, Russell, Havlicek. (This stretch during the Celtics' run of eight consecutive titles.)
1972-73 LOS ANGELES LAKERS 1-900-246-1115
1972: 69-13, won title with best record in history; 1973: 60-22, lost in Finals. Key players: West, Goodrich, Chamberlain.
1984-86 BOSTON CELTICS 1-900-246-1116
1984: 62-20, won title; 1985: 63-19, lost in Finals; 1986: 67-15, won title. Key players: Bird, McHale, Parish.
1985-88 LOS ANGELES LAKERS 1-900-246-1117
1985: 62-20, won title; 1986: 62-20, lost in Western finals; 1987: 65-17, won title; 1988: 62-20, won title. Key players: Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy.
1988-90 DETROIT PISTONS 1-900-246-1118
1988: 54-28, lost in Finals; 1989: 63-19, won title; 1990: 59-23, won title. Key players: Thomas, Dumars, Dantley.
1991-93 CHICAGO BULLS 1-900-246-1119
1991: 61-21, won title; 1992: 67-15, won title; 1993: 57-25, won title. Key players: Jordan, Pippen, Grant.