With a little restraint and further elite play to finish the job, perhaps the champions of the 2007 NBA Finals aren’t the San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs were crowned champions of the 2006-07 season after taking down the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweep of the NBA Finals.
Coming on the heels of a five-game victory over the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals, a sweep of their Finals opponent signaled an impressive level of dominance for the Spurs, but perhaps they should’ve never even gotten the chance to enact in.
The Phoenix Suns entered the 2007 playoffs after a 61-win season that earned them the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Leading the way was reigning two-time MVP Steve Nash alongside All-Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.
Following a light work of the Los Angeles Lakers in round one, the Suns found themselves matched with San Antonio in the conference semis, a similar contender that had eliminated them two years earlier en route to the third championship of the Tim Duncan era.
The Spurs were an equally viable contender who had taken two of their three regular-season matchups, but Phoenix was confident with homecourt advantage.
After falling behind 2-1, the Suns put together an impressive Game 4 performance at the AT&T Center to regain homecourt and tie the series with a 104-98 victory. What should’ve been an inspiring victory, however, was instead hollowed in the game’s final seconds.
20 seconds remained and Phoenix was up three points. As Nash darted up the right sideline to avoid a foul and an eight-second violation, Spurs forward Robert Horry threw his left hip into Nash’s body, sending him crashing into the scorer’s table.
It was a dirty play that brought both sides together in a near-sideline skirmish, although cooler heads eventually prevailed and Nash was not seriously injured.
Horry was ejected and suspended for the following two games — a forearm to Raja Bell earned him the second game. Surprisingly joining him in the exclusion from Game 5 were Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, who had violated the league’s policy in the event of a fight where “all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of the bench.”
The loss of Stoudemire and Diaw was crushing for Phoenix and far outweighed the absence of Horry for the Spurs.
Stoudemire was the Suns’ leading scorer that season, an All-Star who would make All-NBA First Team. Diaw was a capable backup big man who soaked up north of 30.0 minutes a game during the regular season and 20.0 during the playoffs.
In their absence, the Suns were all but hopeless, putting up a tough fight but ultimately losing Game 5 by three points before watching their season end in Game 6 despite the return of Stoudemire and Diaw.
The presence of two frontcourt staples doesn’t guarantee a Game 5 win for the Suns nor does it result in a series victory. The Spurs had already taken Game 1 in Phoenix and their championship resolve could’ve pushed them to another if necessary.
What the suspension does is create an intriguing what-if scenario had it never occurred and the Suns emerge series winners. It actually produces a trio of NBA timelines, each appearing vastly different than the one we currently occupy.
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Williams was in just his second season after being taken third in the 2005 Draft, but he proved far beyond his years in his playoff debut with postseason averages of 19.2 points, 8.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Boozer was a first-time All-Star in 2007 coming off a dominant showing in the second round against the Golden State Warriors, where he averaged 24.2 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in the five-game series.
They may have been aided by the unexpected first-round elimination of the Dallas Mavericks in getting to the conference finals. Flanked by All-Star and second-leading-scorer Mehmet Okur and do-everything defensive ace Andrei Kirilenko, Utah was still a well-rounded bunch that managed to take three of four regular-season games against Phoenix.
Whether the Jazz or Suns advance to the Finals in this alternate reality doesn’t change the representative from the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, an elite defensive unit and essentially a one-man wrecking crew at the offensive end in LeBron James.
Those inexperienced Cavs didn’t put up much of a fight against a well-oiled Spurs team, but perhaps they stand a better chance against equally wide-eyed competitors with significantly looser defenses.
San Antonio gave up the fewest points per game during the regular season. Utah and Phoenix ranked 17th and 23rd, respectively.
On the strength of the fifth-fewest points allowed per game, who knows how far LeBron’s heroics could’ve taken Cleveland after a coming out party of sorts against the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals?
A championship can do a lot for both player and team. Even more so for a trio of organizations without one to their name at that point — Cleveland, as you know, broke through in 2016.
The 7 Seconds or Less Suns of the mid-2000s are widely regarded as one of the better teams never to win a title. Nash’s career is remembered more for the absence of rings than the Hall of Fame accolades.
Williams’ stardom faded into obscurity far too soon after a move to the Brooklyn Nets in 2011. Where does he, along with Boozer and company, fall in history if he accomplished what John Stockton and Karl Malone never could?
What does LeBron’s ever-examined legacy look like with a drought-busting title at just 22 years of age? And how does the remainder of his career play out, in terms of titles and location, after reaching that mountain top so soon?
Perhaps the Spurs still advance with an even playing field and the NBA as we know it remains true to form. Or maybe a little more restraint from Phoenix’s coaching staff — the Spurs bench properly shielded their bench players from a potential suspension — was all that was needed to significantly alter the course of NBA history.