Charles Barkley scored a career-high 56 points in an inspired performance Wednesday night, leading the Phoenix Suns to a 140-133 victory over the Golden State Warriors and a sweep of their first-round NBA playoff series.
Barkley’s 38 first-half points set an NBA playoff record and he finished the three-game series with 112 points. In the deciding game, he made 23 of 31 shots, had 14 rebounds and made seven of nine free throws.
His total tied for the third-best in playoff history behind Michael Jordan’s 63 in 1986 and Elgin Baylor’s 61 in 1962.
After scoring the Suns’ first 12 points, he ran by Warrior Coach Don Nelson and asked him: “You gonna double me?”
Nelson and the Warriors chose not to, and Barkley went on to score 27 points in the quarter, two shy of Sleepy Floyd’s playoff record, despite his aching back.
“Obviously, I was making a lot of shots tonight,” he said. “They kind of forced the issue by not doubling me. I hope it’s not the last time I see single coverage. I kind of like it.”
Said Nelson: “Nobody thought he was going to make all his shots. He had one of the most spectacular games I ever witnessed, as a player and as a coach.”
Barkley, who has said this season will be his last, didn’t miss a shot in the first quarter and didn’t slow down. His previous career high was 44 points.
“It wasn’t luck,” said Golden State’s Chris Webber, who scored 16 points. “He was taking shots we wanted him to take. We wanted him to take three-pointers. It was incredible.”
The league’s two top-scoring teams combined for 147 first-half points--Phoenix led, 74-73--and kept running and gunning in the second half. Each team had passed the 100-point mark with two minutes to play in the third quarter.
“It was a good workout,” Barkley said afterward. “It was three tough games. The first one was rough, the second one was rough and the third one was the roughest of them all.”
Trailing entering the final period, 107-106, Phoenix built its lead to 125-117 with 7:35 to play when Barkley converted a three-point play and notched his 50th point.
Golden State cut the lead to 131-129 on a basket by Latrell Sprewell, who had 27 points, with 2:07 left, but couldn’t get any closer. The Suns missed only three of 19 shots in the final quarter.
The Suns will play the winner of the Houston-Portland series in the second round. Houston leads the series, 2-1, with Game 4 Friday night at Portland.
The prospect of getting a few days rest for his back was Barkley’s incentive to end the series as quickly as possible.
“It’s really bad right now, but thank God I’ve got a couple of days to rest,” he said. “But I’m going to play regardless.”
Thanks to Barkley, this year’s first-round playoff series was much easier for Phoenix, which had to scrap back from an 0-2 deficit against the Lakers last season before advancing to the NBA Finals.
Chris Mullin had 30 points for the Warriors, who were swept in a playoff series for the first time since 1967-68, when the Lakers won four in a row in the Western Conference finals.
Dan Majerle had 24 points for the Suns and Kevin Johnson, who scored 56 points in the first two games, scored 18 and had 12 assists.
Both teams came out running hard and shooting well, but the first half belonged to Barkley, who made his first 11 shots, including three three-pointers. He also made both of his free throws.