You have to wonder if Steve Nash was momentarily vaulted back in time Saturday night.
It wasn’t just that the Nets were playing the Phoenix Suns, the team with which he was twice named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Or even that they have one of the best point guards in the game in Chris Paul, just like they did when he was the one in those shoes.
It was also that, very much like in 2006, the Suns came into Barclays in the midst of a historic win streak. This time it was 15 straight games, which is tied for second behind what they did all those years ago with Nash, when they strung together 17 straight victories. And that tidy little run was only made possible because of one of the best games in NBA history: Nash up against Jason Kidd and the Nets in a double-overtime game that basketball geeks and casual fans alike still talk about.
But though there has to be some sense of nostalgia there, Nash didn’t seem particularly keen in dwelling on the past. Instead, before the game, he concentrated only on the win streak in front of him, along with the fact that this would be a meeting between two of the hottest teams in the NBA (the Nets came into the game having won 12 of 14). Still, there’s no hiding from the fact that he knows a thing or two about what goes into streaks like those, especially since the Suns also won 15 straight with him in 2005.
"I think, for one, you have to be a really good team," Nash said. "You can't just get hot for 15 games. You have to be a really high-quality team. [You have to have] great balance, a team that has an identity and clarity on the floor, and this team's got a great balance and depth and options and is very well-coached. I think that's why this team is able to win, and while it's incredibly impressive, it's almost of no surprise considering their performance in the bubble and last season getting to the Finals and this year as well."
Going into Saturday, the Nets had done a good job of not over-hyping this matchup, with James Harden Friday refusing to even call it a measuring stick. The truth is, though, that those looking in from the outside may consider it otherwise, and Nash and company are fully aware of that.
"These are the exciting regular season games," Nash said. "We hope we get up for all games but clearly there is a little more in the building tonight with them obviously playing lights out and us trying to find ourselves and figuring out ways to win games recently. It's a great measure for us to see where we're at and to compete against a team that's outstanding."
There are a few reasons for that, besides the obvious. When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would not play again until he could adhere to state vaccination mandates, there was a question, too, as to how it would affect this team’s identity and its offense. So far, they've adapted well, but they'll need to continue to build a cohesive group no matter how many times the parts keep changing.
"I think we've seen the players really adapt to that challenge from us as coaches, and we're seeing some growth," he said. "But I think it's really early and it's something that we have to, I think, really adhere to for a long time for us to really feel certainty with our offense."