A Tearful Goodbye to the “7 Seconds or Less” Era
All it took was a step in the wrong direction, and it was all over.
The Phoenix Suns “7 Seconds or Less” era reached its zenith on May 14th, 2007. The Suns had come back from 11 down in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs to win and had tied their best of 7 Western Conference Semifinals at 2 apiece. The Suns, winners of 61 regular season games, which earned them the 2 seed in the Western Conference, were poised to take control of the series with games 5 (and, if necessary) 7 to be played in Phoenix, where they were 33-8 during the regular season.
Then, Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table, and Amare Stoudemire, allegedly on his way to the scorer’s table to check into the game, took one step too many toward the budding fracas happening on the court.
And that was the last time the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns, basketball’s version of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” were truly relevant title contenders in the NBA. Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended for Game 5, and the short-handed Suns lost a heartbreaker at home by 3, in a game which they led by 11 at the half and by 6 after 3 quarters. They lost the following game in San Antonio, but Suns players and fans will always point to that Game 5 as the one that got away.
There are many NBA fans today who don’t quite remember those Suns teams. Most of the relevant players and coaches are still around, but none have found quite the success they did out in the desert. Amare (now Amar’e) Stoudemire had a tremendous first half of last season in New York after signing with the Knicks and former coach Mike D’Antoni, but has not been the same player after the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony and reorganized their team under a far less freewheeling system that minimized Amar’e's strengths and eventually collapsed onto itself this season before Coach D’Antoni resigned. Amar’e has been marginalized in the Knicks offense to the point where it seems as though the Knicks actually play better without him.
As mentioned, Mike D’Antoni, the architect of the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns signed a big contract with the Knicks after the 2007-2008 season, and he struggled for years as management attempted to undo the mess Isiah Thomas left them. After finally finding some success in the first half of the 2010-2011 season, the Knicks traded the bulk of their roster for Carmelo Anthony, whose talents never fit into D’Antoni’s freewheeling system. D’Antoni left the Knicks in disgrace earlier this year.
Steve Nash has been plugging away in Phoenix as the roster around him has shifted, now the last surviving member of the D’Antoni era. While he has not been able to duplicate his back to back MVP years of ’04-05 and ’05-06, he still has been an incredibly productive player, despite a dearth of talent around him. A few nights ago, he most likely played his last game as a member of the Suns, thereby putting the final nail in the coffin of the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns.
Some NBA fans may be wondering what made those Suns teams so special, and what the “7 Seconds or Less” era was all about. Basically, Mike D’Antoni brought a European style to the NBA (he previously coached in Italy), and instituted a hyper-quick system of middle pick and rolls between Nash and Amar’e, two guys tailor-made for that style of play, surrounded by shooters upon shooters upon shooters. They led the league in Offensive Rating (a measurement of points per 100 possessions, which normalizes pace for faster teams) in ’04-’05 and ’06-’07, and were second in ’05-’06 and ’07-’08. Additionally, they were ranked 1st in pace for ’04-’05 and ’05-’06, third in ’06-’07, and fourth in ’07-’08. They put up a lot of points on teams in a hurry. The league struggled to keep up. In D’Antoni’s first year with the Suns, Nash won the MVP and the Suns made 130 more three-pointers than the next highest team, the Ray Allen-led Supersonics, and did so while leading the league in 3 point % at 39.3%.
It was a tremendous brand of basketball to watch. The Suns tried to end every possession within the first 7 seconds of the shot clock (hence “7 Seconds or Less”), and used their suddenly-overwhelming talent at point guard (Nash was signed in same offseason as D’Antoni) to completely devour the league offensively for a 4 season stretch. Some detractors would say that their defense was poor, but it really wasn’t. Using the same method of normalizing for pace, the Suns had a league-average defense over D’Antoni’s 4 years (they ranked 15.5 out of 30 teams during that stretch).
Their effect on the league is still seen today. While not every team employs their breakneck speed, the middle pick and roll surrounded by shooters has become a league staple, and slowly the league has adopted a much more European style, as opposed to the rough and tumble 90s. This has made the game much more fun to watch for viewers, and has helped, along with an explosion in talent, to bring fans back to the game.
A tip of the cap to you, “7 Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns. We’ll miss you.