We here at Bright Side of the Sun will be kicking off our summertime Throwback Thursday series a bit early as we pay homage to the great Seven Seconds or Less era of the Phoenix Suns in light of the recent retirement of legendary maestro Steve Nash. Join us every Thursday as we count down the top ten moments of high-octane glory from Nash's return to the desert in 2004 to their final playoff run in 2010.
And yes, the Shaquille O'Neal chapter will properly omitted.
January 11, 2007.
The Phoenix Suns entered the 2006/07 season with enormous expectations. Amar'e Stoudemire was back in the fold after appearing in only three games the previous season due to microfracture surgery. Shawn Marion was coming off a career year in which he notched 21.8 PPG and 11.8 RPG on 52.5% shooting from the field. Boris Diaw was the reigning Most Improved Player after his breakout 2005/06 campaign in which he emerged as a Super Role Player in the frontcourt. Leandro Barbosa was at the peak of his powers. Kurt Thomas and Raja Bell were bringing the nasty.
And Steve Nash had won the last two Most Valuable Player awards.
This was an absurdly talented, fiercely competitive team that had made it to the Conference Finals in consecutive years and were looking to go all the way this time around. Even the Suns' marketing campaign, "Eyes On The Prize", spelled out in plain English that this was a Championship Or Bust season.
After shaking off a sobering 1-5 start, the Suns had ripped off 23 wins in 25 games leading up to their 'showdown' with LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Cleveland was on somewhat of a tear themselves at the time, having won 8 of 9 games on a diet of mostly Eastern Conference cannolis. On January 11 they stood at a mildly impressive 22-12, but most importantly to the narrative they were the top seed out East. After cracking the playoffs as the fourth seed and falling to the Pistons in the second round the previous year, the 2006/07 Cavaliers season quickly became the Coronation Of The King, as LeBron's Cavs were the favorite this time around.
Despite the unsightly presence of Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden and Eric Snow in the starting lineup along with James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Cavs were grabbing more than their share of headlines as the national media was itching for the 22-year-old James to commence his inevitable domination on the rest of the league.
So it was that when the Suns and Cavaliers stood toe-to-toe on January 11, the basketball world stopped and took notice. And what they saw was utter devastation at the hands of a little Canadian dude.
By the time halftime arrived, there were pieces of Cavalier strewn all over the court. To say that Nash took their heart out only tells part of the story. As far as bodily organs go, I'm positive that he came away with at least a lung or a liver to boot. What he performed could best be described as Hyperspeed Surgery, rapidly amputating the Cavs' defense one piece at a time before the anesthesia could even take effect.
The Suns led 67-41 at the half. Nash already had 13 assists.
Little of note took place in the second half, aside from Nash notching 8 more assists to give him 21 on the night (to go with only 4 points). The Cavs racked up the points in garbage time against the likes of Jalen Rose, Jumaine Jones, Marcus Banks and Pat Burke, padding the score to a not-so-embarrassing 109-90 final.
Marion led the Suns in scoring with 18 on 12 shots, while LeBron chucked his way to 34 points on 28 shots. None of that really mattered, though. What mattered was the painfully obvious message that there was no true contender in the East and Steve Nash was far and away the best basketball player on a court occupied by LeBron James.
James himself alluded to as much on October 26, 2014 when discussing the news that Nash's probable final season wouldn't even be played due to injury.
"If you just look at him, if you're playing street basketball and he's on the side, you're not going to pick him," James said. "And then when he finally gets the chance to pick his four guys that he wants to run with then you're going to be like, 'Damn, I should have took that guy. I should have took him.'"
Nash's MVP awards are still controversial in some circles even today, but this game perfectly encapsulated what made Steve so valuable. His ability to thoroughly decimate an opponent while only converting two field goals for himself is what made him special. Suns fans had seen a similar dynamic with Jason Kidd, but not with this kind of precision and efficiency..
The Suns' offense was more machine than man, and Steve Nash was the Mad Conductor.
The Suns would go on to win 10 of their next 11 games. From November 20, 2006 to February 1, 2007, the Suns posted a record of 34-4, including win streaks of 15 and 17 games (more on that later in the series). They finished the season with a mark of 61-21, but lost in devastating fashion to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Cavs would stumble to 6 losses in their ensuing 9 games and would eventually finish with 50 wins, making the Finals out of a pitiful Eastern Conference by virtue of a Ben Wallace injury to the Pistons. The Evil Empire from San Antonio swept them in 4 achingly boring games.
That's all for now, faithful Suns fans. Tune in next week, when we revisit the baptism of a briefly-tenured Sun.