Sir Charles will finally play the palace.
Charles Barkley goes to center stage--the NBA finals, starting here Wednesday against Chicago. The Seattle SuperSonics go home, dispatched when Barkley gave them the royal treatment Saturday afternoon, a 44-point, 24-rebound performance to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 123-110 victory before 19,023 at America West Arena in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
"Charles Barkley is, I don't know how to explain it, other than to say he's a man," teammate Danny Ainge said. "He manhandled those guys tonight. What do people call Shawn Kemp? The man-child? Charles is just a man."
Going in, Barkley called this the biggest game of his life. That he struggled through Game 6, looking worn out from playing all but the final 2.9 seconds two nights earlier, made his presence that much more imperative. The Suns might have thought somewhere they could win without Barkley, but this didn't seem like a good time to find out.
Barkley, who had been to the Eastern Conference finals his rookie season with Philadelphia, knew that as much as anyone.
"I was killing pasta yesterday and had a good night's sleep," he said. "Well, that's a lie, actually. I woke up about five times all night long. Anybody who'd tell you they could sleep last night is just lying.
"I went to bed around around 11:30 or 12, was up again at 2, was up again at 4, was up again at 6. I finally got back to bed about 9 o'clock this morning. These games are exciting, but they rattle your nerves. I don't care what anybody says."
Only the SuperSonics seemed disheveled. Having grabbed the momentum by winning two of the previous three games, they then needed only 3:59 to be looking up at a 12-2 deficit. So much for taking the crowd out of the game.
Seattle was back in it by the start of the second quarter, having briefly taken the lead before slipping again and then climbing back within 53-49 with 25 seconds left in the half. Nobody could have known the end was near.
That four-point lead turned into a rout when the Suns went on an 18-4 charge, including 12-0 to start the second half. Barkley had eight of the points. Even more troublesome to the SuperSonics, Phoenix, already ahead by 71-53, got into the bonus with 8:19 to go in the third quarter.
The Suns made 16 of their next 18 free throws, 24 of 26 overall in the quarter. The SuperSonics cut the lead, but it was still 91-80 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Seattle got as close as nine early in the fourth quarter, but that proved to be only a tease as the Suns quickly went back ahead by 16. They could have cruised to the victory and pulled the stars to avoid possible injury heading into the franchise's first trip to the finals since 1976, but Barkley stayed in until only 42 seconds remained, playing 46 minutes in all.
He had 15 points and 12 rebounds during the fourth quarter, bulldozing the SuperSonics to the end. Then he took on the rest of the world.
"People have been bashing our team all year," said Barkley, who went 12 of 20 from the field and 19 of 22 from the line. "Fans, in the newspaper, media. We're not tough enough, we're not tall enough, we can't beat Eastern Conference teams.
"Seattle's going to win the West. Houston's going to win the West. You call us whatever you want to. But you'd better call us the Western Conference champions.
"It's just really ridiculous how you can go through the whole regular season, have the best record in the league (62-20) and always defend yourself. So far, we got the last laugh. No matter what happens in the finals, we still got the last laugh because we got there.
"We listen to that (stuff) everyone feeds us about being too small and we don't play any defense. There's only two teams left and we're one of those two, so we made a lot of people look like fools. You really get tired of people bashing your team. You don't pay any attention, but you get sick and tired of hearing it all the time."
So they did something about it, beating three teams with a size advantage. Barkley averaged 26.3 points and 13.8 rebounds in 41.6 minutes along the way.
Western Conference Notes
Phoenix's Cedric Ceballos underwent surgery Saturday morning to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, a lingering injury that worsened during Game 6. The Cal State Fullerton product had a screw placed in the foot. He is expected to be on crutches four to six weeks and be ready by training camp in the fall.
Coach Paul Westphal, who had started both Ceballos and Richard Dumas this series, made another switch and put Tom Chambers into the starting lineup for the first time since the 1991-92 regular season. Dumas didn't play. . . . The Suns made 57 free throws--in 64 attempts--to tie an NBA playoff record set by Boston in 1953 in four overtimes. The record for attempts is 70. . . . Eddie Johnson scored 34 points for Seattle. Sam Perkins had 19.