Before we move on to the playoffs, I thought I would take a moment to look back at some of my favorite Suns games of the regular season. A couple of these are sure-fire locks to make my all-time list, but most were just highlights of a season that gave the Suns and their fans plenty of reason to smile. I picked out seven games of the 81 played to date (should the Clippers game turn out to be an unexpected classic, I'll duly add it to this list. :) ). I could probably have picked out more, but this was starting to get long. I'll leave it to the readers to fill out the rest of the list.
7. Suns vs. Cavaliers, 01/11/2007 Those who regularly read my Grading the Game recaps know that I generally don't find blowouts (even the ones the Suns win) to be particularly all that entertaining. However, there are always exceptions, like when said blowout comes against a really great team, or when it comes at the hands of an absolutely astonishing performance from one of the Suns. Such was the case on this night where Steve Nash sliced up the Cavaliers "acclaimed" defense so completely that ESPN Sports Guy Bill Simmons proclaimed that the Cavaliers "couldn't be taken seriously for the rest of the season". Nash had 21 assists and just one turnover. He only scored four points himself, but five of his teammates were in double figures, with four scoring 19, 18, 17, and 16 respectively. Complete and utter domination of a team that was touting itself to be a great defensive team and championship contender.
6. Suns vs. Mavericks, 04/01/2007 After all the April Fools jokes were out of the way, the Suns got serious, and showed why the Mavericks should be hoping for a conference finals match-up with the Spurs instead of the Suns. Having four players score 20+ will usually get you a victory every time. This was another example of an entertaining blowout, featuring an outstanding total team effort by the Suns against an opponent with the best record in the league.
5. Suns vs. Spurs, 02/01/2007 Despite the 16-point margin of victory, this game looked like it was going to go down to the wire right up until midway through the fourth quarter, when Amare Stoudemire--taking exception to being kneed in the groin by Manu Ginobili and called for a foul to boot--went bananas and began torching the Spurs in both points and boards. We'll likely be needing four more such performances from him against the Spurs if the Suns are to win a championship this year, but hopefully, they can come with a little less pain next time. :)
4. Suns at Warriors, 11/20/2006 Although the Suns had already started to shake off their rough start to the season, this was the game that really got them going. The Suns went into Golden State with a 3-6 record. 48 minutes later, following a game-winning buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Steve Nash, the Suns had started the first of two franchise record-breaking winning streaks. It would be another 14 games before the Suns would lose again, and even then it would take a blizzard in Denver and a long day of traveling to make it happen.
3. Suns at Bulls, 01/02/2007 Inspired by the Boise State football team's "go for the win" victory a few days earlier, the Suns opted to go for the game-winning 3-pointer instead of the tie at the end of a game in which they had been mostly outplayed, and found themselves down by two with five seconds left. What made it even more special was the guy they selected to take the shot: one Leandro Barbosa, who was known at the time for light-speed to the basket layups and three-pointers, but not game-winning clutch baskets. But it worked, and with it, Barbosa's confidence soared through the roof and has never looked back. He's now one of the most reliable clutch shooters on the team.
2. Suns at Mavericks, 03/14/2007 A lot of people are going to disagree with me for rating this game a notch below the New Jersey Nets game earlier in the season. That's cool. I fully understand. This game taught us a lot about the Suns, and was without a doubt the biggest win of the season. It also may end up going down as the best clutch performance of Steve Nash's career. After a wild rollercoster ride featuring major momentum swings in both directions, the Suns were left for dead, down by 15 at the start of the fourth quarter. In fact, right up until the final minute, it looked like the Mavericks had a guaranteed victory. But then Nash took over. Assisted by a critical Shawn Marion rebound, and Dirk Nowitzki's inexplicable free throw choke job, Nash was able to put his team into the first of two overtimes by scoring 10 points in the final 55 seconds of the quarter, including a game-saving 3-pointer with two seconds left. Then, with Amare Stoudemire's scoring, and a couple more huge defensive plays from Nash at the end of the second overtime, the Suns had the victory, and Nash had re-entered the MVP discussion. While Nash is unlikely to actually win the award, this game proved without a doubt there's nobody better when the game is on the line.
1. Suns at Nets, 12/07/2006. There are a lot of ways to describe this game:
- The fourth highest scoring game in NBA history
- The synthetic ball's finest moment
- One of the best offensive performances of all time
- One of the worst defensive performances of all time
- A matchup of two great point guards playing at peak levels
- The game where Jason Kidd tied Wilt Chamberlain on the triple-doubles list
- The game where Steve Nash tied his regular-season career high in points, and had his best clutch shot of the season
- The second-best game of 2006-07
From the opening tip, it was obvious the fans who attended this game were going to get their money's worth. Both the Suns and Nets zipped up and down the court, with each team's point guard running the offense to perfection. By half-time, the score was already 64-58, and Jason Kidd's Chamberlain-tying triple-double was practically a given. By the time Steve Nash hit the game-tying, off-balance 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, both teams had amassed 133 points each, with another 52 combined points to be scored in the extra sessions. For fans who love scoring, this was as good as it gets. The final score: 161-157, with so many "ooh-ah" moments (particularly from Nash and Kidd) that I lost count.
Those of us watching via League Pass had the added privilege of listening to Mark Jackson and Ian Eagle calling the game, which was nearly as entertaining as the game itself. I don't often say that about the other team's commentators, and I have no idea if this was typical for them, but on this one particular day at least, those two guys were amazing. They were about as neutral as I have ever heard on a local broadcast, expressing equal admiration for Suns and Nets alike, and as the game became more and more thrilling, it was clear they were enjoying watching it as much as the fans. They were practically cheering for both teams by the time the game ended. Some of Mark Jackon's more memorable quotes:
In life, sometimes you're the pigeon and sometimes you're the statue. (After they showed a clip of the famous Tom Chambers dunk, in which Jackson was most definitely "the statue")
That's a good no-call. This is overtime. Put the babies to bed. (Even more impressive because he was talking about one of the Nets players--how often do you hear a local broadcaster say something like that?)
It's not the floor's fault, RJ. Get up! (On Richard Jefferson's very amusing pounding of the floor following a missed layup)
How about the catch from Jefferson and the finish? Then a couple of seconds later: Like I said, how about the catch from Marion and the finish?. The play in question has become one of the signature moves of the Suns this year--the opponent makes a shot, the Suns inbound to Nash who passes it all the way up to the court to whoever happens to be closest to the basket. Time to execute: Approximately 2 seconds. Opponent psyche devastation factor: 10. :)