Steve Nash is a surefire Hall-Of-Famer for many reasons. His elite shooting, led to four 50/40/90 seasons -- a feat yet to be accomplished even once by Stephen Curry. His supreme court vision, enabling him to lead the NBA in assists per game five times. But what made Nash truly legendary was the virtuoso performances he put on come playoff time.
During the 2005 playoffs, his former Dallas Mavericks team suffered his Canadian wrath like no other.
The 7SOL Era began during the summer of 2004, when the Suns verbally agreed to a contract of 6 years at $65 million to bring Nash back to the desert -- an offer that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban infamously declined to match, as it was an estimated $20 million richer than the Mavericks were willing to offer.
While Cuban received a large amount of criticism for letting the future MVP walk to a Western Conference rival, nobody could have predicted the level of play Nash would reach after turning 30, when mere mortals often begin declining.
While one can chalk up the Nash situation to a case of unforeseen circumstances, Cuban would not leave the summer free agency bonanza of 2004 empty-handed. The Mavs were determined to mature past the Don Nelson era, so they committed 7 years and $73 million to the antithesis of Nellieball: dominating inside presence Erick Dampier.
Dampier finally had the supporting cast in Dallas that he lacked in Golden State, including a prime Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse. Proving that it is always a sound decision to open the vault for players who put up career years right as they enter free agency, Dampier and the Mavs were able to move on from Nash without skipping a beat. The Suns, on the other hand, blew the doors off the NBA from starting line, racing to a 31-4 start and ending the season as the no. 1 seed out West at 62-20.
They had little trouble in the first round with the Grizzlies, led by a young Pau Gasol, sweeping them in four uneventful games. The Mavericks, on the other hand, received all they could handle from Tracy McGrady and the fifth-seeded Rockets before finally squashing them by 40 points in Game 7. The Rockets players not named Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady combined to go 6-33 from that game, leading everyone in Houston to lament, "O Scott Padgett, Where Art Thou?"
Clutch City, indeed.
Anyway, the stage was set for a showdown between Nash and the formidable Dampier in the second round.
The Suns managed to gain the upper hand in Game 1 despite the beastly defense of Erick the Great, who held ferocious big man Amar'e Stoudemire to a mere 40 points on 21 attempts from the field. Dampier responded with 5 monster rebounds and 4 fouls in 15 minutes, while contributing 0 points on 0-4 shooting. Suns' guard Joe Johnson suffered a broken face in Game 2, which enabled the Mavs to take two out of the next three games and even the series at 2-2.
Dallas unveiled an interesting strategy in Game 4, forcing Nash to act as a scorer rather than be eviscerated by his passing and Stoudemire's gorilla dunks. The plan worked as Nash scored 48 points on 20-28 from the field but still suffered a 109-119 loss.
At that point, Steve ascended to another stratosphere of filthiness.
In Game 5, Nash notched a rare triple double, one of only three for his career, with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. Dampier responded with 14 rebounds and a stellar 0-7 shooting night from the field, but although he played the MVP to a draw the Mavs still suffered a 114-108 defeat and were thus facing elimination.
Nash was only getting warmed up.
In front of his former fans in Dallas, Nash flirted with yet another trip-dub (39 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds) including an ice-cold pull-up from 3 to tie the game in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. The Suns prevailed in overtime and sent the Mavs packing for the season despite 13 points and 6 rebounds from Dampier.
The Mavs and Suns had a unique "rivalry" in the mid-2000's, one born of mutual respect. Nash and Nowitzki were BFF's as well as two of the goofiest superstars in modern NBA history. Mavs fans still applauded Nash, Suns fans admired Dirk, and the two teams had some legendary battles.
The Mavs got their revenge in the following season, pouncing on a depleted Suns team in the Conference Finals before bowing out to Shaq, Wade and the Heat.
The Nash/Dampier debate will no doubt rage on throughout the generations. While Nash made his case by twice winning the MVP award, Dampier was able to lead the Mavericks to the FInals before taking his talents to South Beach and forming the 'Heatles' with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
There is no doubt who the winner is in Phoenix, however, as Nash's gutsy performance against his former team in the 2005 playoffs is only one of his legendary feats as a Sun.