Sports

The Oral History of the Best Game Mike D’Antoni Ever Saw

These days, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd both go by “Coach.” In some respects, the new titles came out of nowhere, like one of their famous no-look passes. But Nash and Kidd’s Hall of Fame playing careers always have seemed to run parallel to one another, and their current chapter is no different. Just imagine what a story it would be if Nash’s Brooklyn Nets ended up facing Kidd’s Los Angeles Lakers in the 2021 NBA Finals. Nash is seeking the championship that eluded him as a player, while Kidd is looking to go back-to-back as an assistant coach. Maybe the stars will align. After all, they certainly have before.

Fifteen years ago, also seemingly out of nowhere, Nash and Kidd went head-to-head in an all-time hardwood classic. It was a point guard duel for the ages, two superstars exchanging blows in a clash that felt like it was never going to end. And it happened on a nondescript Thursday night in the early portion of the regular season. That evening, Dec. 7, 2006, the New Jersey Nets made a conscious decision to run with the Phoenix Suns and their vaunted “Seven Seconds or Less” offense. The two teams traded baskets at warp speed—their respective defenses offering little if any resistance. It provided an intriguing glimpse into the future of the NBA, a riveting, pace-and-space game well ahead of its time.

“That’s the best game I’ve ever seen,” then-Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said after the double-overtime thriller at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. At the time, the game was tied for the fourth-highest point total in NBA history (318). There were 34 lead changes, 21 ties, and 13 players who scored in double figures. Five of those 13 double-figure scorers were All-Stars, with Kidd (10), Nash (eight), Vince Carter (eight), Amar’e Stoudemire (six), and Shawn Marion (four) combining to make 36 All-Star Game appearances.

In the past, the NBA’s best duels pitted spectacular wing scorers or dominant big men against one another. But the NBA was about to become a point guard’s league, and Kidd versus Nash was just the start of it. Nash and Kidd each logged 48 minutes in the 58-minute marathon. Their final stat lines were epic even by video game standards: Nash had a career-high 42 points and 13 assists on 16-for-25 shooting, while Kidd finished with 38 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists for his 78th career triple-double, tying Wilt Chamberlain for third place on the all-time list.

Back then, Nash, 32, and Kidd, 33—separated by two draft classes and less than a year in age—were arguably the best two point guards in the league, both known for their superhuman ability to see plays before they happened. Former teammates in Phoenix from 1996 to 1998, they developed a friendship built on mutual respect. But they were also steely competitors, and both wanted to come away with the victory.

The stats and the score may seem commonplace today, but they certainly weren’t then. Those involved in some way or another remember it well—even long after Nash and Kidd both transitioned from players to coaches.

The Nets and Suns are set to meet again on April 25. Here’s The Ringer’s oral history of their timeless clash 15 years ago:

(Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.)


A little less than two weeks before the game, the Suns recorded their 13th consecutive home win over the Nets with a 99-93 victory in Phoenix. New Jersey was getting blown out in that game until coach Lawrence Frank benched his starters, and the reserves mounted an unlikely fourth-quarter comeback. Nash was the NBA’s two-time reigning MVP, dominating in a run-and-gun offense that was perfectly suited for his skill set alongside lethal pick-and-roll partner Stoudemire. Heading into their second matchup of the season, the Nets were struggling, having lost seven of nine. The Suns went on to finish as the no. 2 seed in the Western Conference, while New Jersey would finish with a .500 record.

Jason Kidd (Nets point guard): Whenever you’re facing Nash, you had to go to bed early because you knew you were in for a dogfight. He had all those offensive weapons—Amare, the Matrix [Shawn Marion]—so we knew we were going to have our hands full.

Ian Eagle (Nets play-by-play broadcaster): I think people forget that Jason Kidd always took those matchups with the Suns personally. He wasn’t one to find the nearest microphone and talk about it, but you could always see the determination in the meetings against the Suns because they traded him [in 2001], and the circumstances surrounding that trade got very personal. I always felt like he took the weight of the world on his shoulders in meetings against Phoenix.

Richard Jefferson (Nets forward): I think Jason was always motivated against Phoenix because of the Stephon Marbury trade in 2001. But if you look back on the Nets’ record versus the Suns in Phoenix, it wasn’t pretty. If you were going to beat them, you needed to be in Jersey. This was a regular-season game, so none of us knew what we were getting into. But there were connections and history and familiarity there, so we figured it would be a good matchup. Then all of a sudden the game got going, and it was like, “What the hell?”

Steve Nash and Jason Kidd

It’s remarkable how much Kidd and Nash have in common. They both played college basketball in the Bay Area at the same time, with Kidd’s California Golden Bears taking two of three matchups against Nash’s Santa Clara Broncos. In the NBA, each had stints with Phoenix and Dallas. Kidd single-handedly transformed the Nets from a laughingstock to a contender, leading New Jersey to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2001-02 and 2002-03 before ultimately returning to the Mavericks and winning a championship after the 2010-11 season—the only title between the two point guards. In the end, Kidd came out ahead of Nash in their NBA matchups, 19-15. The two went into the Hall of Fame together in 2018. They were later both hired by the Nets as rookie head coaches, Kidd in 2013-14 and Nash in 2020-21, charged with leading star-studded rosters with championship-or-bust expectations despite having no previous coaching experience.

Kidd: As a player, Steve’s a gym rat. It’s funny, in Phoenix I tell people we both came off the bench [behind starter Kevin Johnson], and that [former Suns coach] Danny Ainge was probably one of the pioneers of playing three point guards. And then with Nash’s personality, he’s such a great guy. I would say that our golf games were just as competitive [as our basketball games], just in terms of who can hit the ball from 50, 75, or 100 yards the closest to the pin.

Tim Capstraw (Nets radio color commentator): Kidd’s will was greater than his skill. He had a charisma and leadership that was unmatched in that period of time. He just had that look in his eyes, and his teammates would know to take it up to another level. Nash was a brilliant player in terms of his skills and moves. Kidd did it more with basic fundamentals—going from one end of the floor to the other with incredible speed and power.

Raja Bell (Suns guard): Steve played with J-Kidd early in his career, and it was kind of a mentor-mentee type relationship [Kidd was 321 days older]. And when you play against your guy, you want to show him where you’ve come from to where you are now. On the flip side of that, your mentor doesn’t want to give you a chance to one-up him, so it was really cool to watch that and a fun game to be a part of. Eddie House hit some big shots early and was talking shit as usual, but it was different because he wasn’t on our team and he wanted to win badly. Eddie and I always had a super cool and friendly rivalry about who shot it better, so that was fueling me for sure.

The Nets ranked 15th in scoring (97.6 points per game) during the 2006-07 season, but that night their sputtering offense came to life, running and gunning with the top-ranked Suns (110.2 PPG). Phoenix took a 10-point lead late in the second quarter, but New Jersey trailed just 92-90 heading into the fourth. The final period turned into a track meet, with the teams combining for 84 points. At one point, the two teams combined to make 10 consecutive shots. The Nets shot 16-for-21 from the field in the fourth, while the Suns went 7-for-10 from 3-point range. There were 17 lead changes and eight ties. Nash had 15 points in the quarter, while Vince Carter and Marcus Williams each scored 14, with Kidd adding nine. There was history, heroics, and everything else in-between.

Eagle: From a broadcasting standpoint, you don’t wake up thinking the morning of a game: “This one has a chance to be a classic.” You don’t think that way. But when it unfolds in that matter, you have to be ready for it. Mark Jackson and I really enjoyed making one another laugh, and the first two quarters are peppered with a lot of laughs and levity. And then when the game got really serious and we both realized how good of a game it was, the jokes stopped and we locked in. It was among the more entertaining games I’ve called in 27 years of doing the NBA.

Frank DiGraci (YES Network producer): I remember the fourth quarter was 43-41 Nets, and it was 133-133 at the end of regulation. We had never seen anything like that. That fourth quarter was one of the greatest fourth quarters that we’ve ever had for the Nets on YES. And Marcus Williams ended up having 14 points in the fourth. It was one of the highlights of his career. He was unbelievable.

Bell: We had no answer for Marcus Williams. He was lighting us up in the second half. I know Kidd and Vince did their thing, but I was used to that. I remember thinking, “Damn, this kid is good.”

Bobby Marks (Nets VP of basketball operations): I remember there was nobody there. I remember standing in the hallway where our team came out watching this epic duel between two of the best point guards in the league, and thinking to myself, “Where is everyone?” You basically could’ve taken the other four players off either team and just let them play one-on-one. It was one of the best duels that nobody ever saw.

With 10:25 remaining in the fourth, Carter drained a jumper off a pass from Kidd to give the New Jersey point guard career triple-double no. 78. It was also Kidd’s 40th career triple-double as a Net. PA announcer Gary Sussman acknowledged the feat to the crowd following a timeout with 5:59 left. In the heat of battle, Nash patted Kidd on the head and the two had a brief exchange.

Steve Nash (Suns point guard): I told him he’s only got 75 more than me. I’m hot on his heels.

Kidd: I think he did say something like that. And I think I probably told him you’ve got three, but there’s more to come.

Eagle: Game recognizes game. They had that legitimate relationship, and the mutual respect between them was obvious. That they could have that conversation during the game shows you how they can compartmentalize what they were doing. They were killers on the court, but there was still that playful side to each of them, so it makes sense they’d say that to one another.

Phoenix Suns v New Jersey Nets

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

A little less than two minutes later, Kidd threw a post entry pass to Mikki Moore. Nash came over to help double-team Moore down low, and stole the ball. The two got tangled up, and ended up chest-to-chest, with the 6-foot-3 Nash laughing at the 7-foot Moore. They exchanged words, and had to be separated. Double technicals were handed out. As if Nash needed any more added motivation. The bear had been awoken.

Kidd: Well, the bear was probably already awake by then, but that’s just his competitive spirit. No matter how big or how fast you are, he’s up for the challenge, and he’s not going to back down from anybody.

Eagle: Mikki was just an interesting dude. He had a fascination with snakes, and as the story goes we would go out on a long road trip and he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to come home to. I don’t think he had somebody taking care of them during the week. So we were always curious what happened with those snakes at his place. But despite his rough veneer, he was a likable guy and would smile a lot more than people thought.

Jefferson: Mikki was a journeyman. When he joined our team he was everything we needed. He led the league in field goal percentage and had the best year of his career that year. We should’ve brought him back [Moore signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Kings]. He was a joy to have him on our team. Anything that happened between those lines was purely out of competitiveness.

Fast-forward to the final minute. Carter drove out of an isolation set and converted a layup to put the Nets up 129-128 with 23.1 seconds remaining. Then, he hit a pair of free throws to give New Jersey a three-point lead after Bell missed a 3-pointer. The Suns set up an after-timeout play, but Boris Diaw was fouled immediately by Carter following the inbound pass. Frank had been burned by not fouling with the Nets up three in Game 5 of the 2004 Eastern Conference semifinals three years before. Chauncey Billups hit a miracle half-court shot at the end of regulation, and the game went into triple-overtime. Kidd ended up getting injured in one of the extra periods, and wasn’t the same player in games 6 or 7. The Nets coach wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Except Carter already had five fouls—unbeknown to no. 15 or his coach—and was disqualified with 4.8 seconds left.

Lawrence Frank (Nets coach), via Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Having Vince in the game was asinine. That’s a coaching loss. Write it. That’s the right thing. I shouldn’t have had him in the game. That was just a dumb decision. It was just damn stupid. That was just dumb coaching. I totally screwed the team. That was horrible.

Diaw drained the ensuing free throws, and Kidd did the same on the other end. Nets 133, Suns 130 with 4.4 seconds remaining. D’Antoni drew up the perfect play, and his team executed it to perfection. Diaw inbounded the ball. Nash came off a pindown from Kurt Thomas, caught the pass from the top of the key, and let an off-balance 3-pointer fly as Kidd valiantly attempted to contest the shot. Swish. Tied. Kidd’s half-court heave fell short with 0.8 seconds remaining and the game headed for overtime.

Kidd: I think we all knew where the ball was going. Kurt set a great screen, and stars make plays late in games, and Steve made a play. He didn’t need much room to shoot it.

Eagle: They let Nash take the shot, and everybody in the arena knew it was going in.

Jefferson: It’s one of those things where you love your principles until somebody says, “Fuck you to your principles.” It’s like, no we’re not going to foul or we’re not going to do this. But if you go and watch the shot, it’s like how many people are going to make that shot? As great as he was, Steve probably had like an 18 percent chance of making that shot, and he did. That’s what makes the game so epic.

Mike D’Antoni (Suns coach): Back then it wasn’t certain that everybody fouls up three. It was more like 50-50. Now, I think 90 percent of teams would’ve fouled in that situation. We ran a similar play in Chicago that season where Leandro Barbosa hit the game-winning shot. It was great in the fact that: (1.) We were allowed to be able to run the play. (2.) We were able to execute it perfectly. (3.) Steve hit the shot. If anything goes wrong there, it doesn’t work. But that was one of those nights where it all did.

Bell: Coach used to go over late-game stuff, and that was a play we had been exposed to in practice. That was Mike’s go-to if we needed to get a 3-pointer off in the final seconds. We ran something similar—more like the shot LB hit in Chicago—the play before, and they fouled Boris on the catch. That’s the play we usually ran where we threw it to a big man and then ran a split action. But this time, instead of Steve coming all the way over the top he kind of loops real quick to the free throw line and then they set the pindown. So the adjustment was that we weren’t going to give anyone a chance to foul. It went directly to Steve off Kurt’s pindown. It was a pretty cool wrinkle after having seen what they were going to do defensively on the previous possession. Mike was really good about seeing something that was going to happen, and then making that quick little counter.

Phoenix Suns v New Jersey Nets

With Carter already fouled out, it was up to Kidd to carry the Nets in extra time. Meanwhile, Stoudemire and Bell both fouled out for the Suns in the first overtime, leaving Nash short-handed as well. On the final possession of the first OT, with the score knotted at 143, Kidd got isolated against Marion. Kidd drove right before pulling up for an off-balance, 19-foot fadeaway jumper over an outstretched Marion with 1.6 seconds remaining. The ball hit the backboard, rolled around the rim, hit the backboard again, and then hit the front rim before falling out as the buzzer sounded. Carter had jumped off the bench ready to celebrate, and couldn’t believe the Basketball Gods could be so cruel. Neither could Kidd, who collapsed to the ground and put his hands on his head as if to say, “You cannot be serious …”

Kidd: That was for the game, and I just didn’t think I had any more energy left. It didn’t bounce our way that night. And I knew that Nash always has energy, so if you have a chance, you gotta end it.

Eagle: That might’ve been one of the best endings in Nets’ history if that jumper goes in. As a play-by-play guy, I remember building it up just not in my head but also on the air that it was building towards this incredible ending. The only thing missing was the shot didn’t go in.

Jefferson: I was getting tired. I ended up having ankle surgery in January. I had multiple cortisone shots in my ankle, and I ended up having bone spurs taken out. I wasn’t as capable as I normally was—even though I ended up having a good game. Jason knew that I wasn’t 100 percent, so I think when Jason missed that shot he was just like, “Fuck.” I was fighting through it, but he just knew the longer this goes, it’s just not going to be good for us.

As it turned out, Kidd was right. The Nets trailed by six with 1:23 left in the second OT, but Jefferson drained a 3-pointer and Kidd drove by Marion and finished off a highlight-worthy three-point play with his left hand to make it 157-157 with 33.6 seconds remaining. No. 5 slipped and fell on a wet spot after getting fouled, and Antoine Wright slipped and fell on the same spot as he was coming over to help Kidd up.

Kidd: I just remember at that point it just seemed like the game was never going to end. And for the few people who were probably there that night, you know I think they got their money’s worth.

Phoenix Suns v New Jersey Nets

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Suns then exploited a switch, with Diaw posting up the smaller Kidd. No help came from the weak side, and Diaw backed Kidd down before converting a flip shot inside for the go-ahead basket with 14.1 seconds left. Crushingly, Kidd then dribbled the ball off his foot on the ensuing possession five seconds later. Nash then had to save Diaw’s errant inbound pass from going out before converting a pair of free throws with 4.0 seconds remaining to seal the deal. The final buzzer sounded. Phoenix had prevailed, 161-157.

Some other stats that jump out from that night: Marion played 50 minutes, scored 33 points, and grabbed nine rebounds. Nash scored or assisted on 16 of Phoenix’s final 18 points. The Suns hit 17 3-pointers, the most by any team in a game at that point in the season. Carter had 31 points on 13-for-17 shooting. Also scoring over 20 points: Jefferson (25), Bell (24), and Stoudemire (23).

The Nets set franchise records for both points scored and points allowed that still stand to this day. The double-OT thriller would ultimately serve as the eighth win in a 15-game streak for Phoenix.

Kidd: When you’re walking off the floor, you’re thinking about that first pindown for Nash, and could we have done something different so it didn’t go to overtime. And then you fast-forward to the first overtime, and you’re like why didn’t the ball just go down so we could’ve already hit the showers and been on our way home? You don’t have time to think about numbers when you’re playing against Nash because he’s coming at you at 100 miles an hour. But I remember looking at the statsheet, and the minutes are the first thing that really stands out.

Nash: I would’ve been sick if we’d have lost, and that’s what it comes down to—not wanting to lose.

D’Antoni (postgame in the visitors locker room): Couple things: As you get in your hotel room tonight, turn on Classic NBA. It’s already an Instant Classic. It’ll be on tonight already, because that was one of the best games I’ve ever been coach of or seen or heard or whatever. You guys are so freaking good it scares me sometimes. Now, we do have to tighten some things up and I go crazy sometimes. But I tell you what—you guys played your hearts out, and that’s about as good as you can play. They played unbelievably and they got a lot of talent and give them credit, but you guys hung in there.

Eagle: I remember at the time the Nets were not thrilled with the idea that they were on the wrong end of the best game of the season.

Jefferson: When it’s over you’re thinking, “Fuck, that would’ve been a fun one to win,” because you know they’re going to be talking about this game for years to come. But we did all we could and they had a great team over there with Hall of Fame players. The beautiful thing about the league—except until you get into the playoffs—is there’s always another game tomorrow. But I remember we talked about that game for a couple days—it was more of what we could’ve done differently, how we could’ve changed this and did this or that—but ultimately we had our shot. There wasn’t any residual effect, but it was just that mindset of we had it and we let it get away.

Chris Carrino (Nets radio play-by-play broadcaster): I remember getting a call right after the game from an ESPN producer asking if I would come down to New York City and be on Cold Pizza the next day. You knew it was something special when Cold Pizza was calling. I went down to the studio the next morning and did a segment with Jay Crawford.

Almost 15 years later, Cold Pizza is long gone, but that game still resonates among its participants and broadcasters. It was a night they’ll never forget.

D’Antoni: Obviously, I exaggerated [when I said it was the best game I’d ever seen], but it was a great game. I wasn’t just referring to all the points—and I’m sure the naysayers will talk about the [lack of] defense and all that—but just watching Steve and Jason and knowing how competitive they are and knowing that neither one could stop the other guy and the ability to will themselves to a possible win, that’s why I thought it was one of the greatest games.

Kidd: It’s funny because [Suns VP of basketball communications] Julie Fie gave me the statsheet a couple years ago, and we always talk about that game. It’s probably in the top five in my career when you talk about the Olympics, winning a championship in Dallas, playing in the Finals against the Spurs and Lakers with the Nets. And then you talk about the first game of my pro career playing against the Nets and Kenny Anderson. That will always stand out, but that night is probably in the top five for sure.

Julie Fie (Suns VP of basketball communications): This is my 40th season. I’ve watched a lot of games, but I still remember the feeling I had during that game. You’re on pins and needles, and you don’t want to turn your head or look down for a stat because you think you’re going to miss something. And the greatest part was that we won.

Sean Marks (Suns center, who was inactive and sat on the bench, and current Nets GM): I played both with and against Jason and Steve [before hiring him in Brooklyn], and it was just about two future Hall of Famers with paths that really intertwined. And I had the best seat in the house watching two guys who were masters at their craft go at it and lead their teams. It’s always amazing when you get to see that.

Eagle: As the years went on, the game really did take on a life of its own. That particular New Jersey team didn’t accomplish as much as they should’ve [getting eliminated in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers that postseason], and the Suns couldn’t quite get over the hump. But it was a clear sign of just how much talent those two teams had, and the entertainment value that comes with that. I don’t know how many games I’ve called in the NBA, but that’s a top-five game. And it was a December game. That usually doesn’t happen. Normally, it’s a game with much bigger stakes. But that just speaks to how incredible it was.

Jefferson: It doesn’t get brought up enough. The numbers are so historic, but now you have to give context because teams are putting up 130 points like it’s nothing. But just think about all the guys who were playing at such a high level—me, Marion, Amare, Jason, Steve, Vince. It was that epic game that only happens maybe twice a year. Now you’ve got the Nets vs. Wizards that are 150-148 in regulation. That’s just absurd. I’m not a get-off-my-lawn guy but that’s not defense.

More than 14 years later, Kidd is now looking to win back-to-back titles as an assistant under Frank Vogel, while Nash and D’Antoni have Brooklyn’s offense humming on the other coast with historic efficiency. Just imagine if the Nets and Lakers were to meet in the 2021 NBA Finals, and feature another showdown between Kidd and Nash.

Kidd: That would be cool. When I heard he was going to be coach of the Nets I just said congratulations and if there’s anything you need along the way I’m here to help. I’ve been in that seat before. It is really funny and just crazy how us being point guards, having that Hall of Fame career and now in his first year coaching they pushed all the chips in (adding James Harden to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) and it’s championship or bust. But I think it’s great, and I think they have the right guy to be able to do that.

D’Antoni: It’s definitely quirky with Jason working for the Lakers in L.A. and I’m working for Steve which is really how things evolve. Everything’s different, but also the same.

Mike Mazzeo is a veteran sports journalist based in New York City who has written for ESPN, Yahoo Sports, and the New York Daily News.

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