Suns-Mavericks: An Ugly Sunset for a Golden Era in Phoenix

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

PHOENIX - APRIL 25:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns looks on near the end the game against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 at NBA Playoffs at the at U.S. Airways Center on April 25, 2008.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

On life-support since the ill-fated Shawn Marion trade, the "Seven Seconds or Less" era is officially dead in Phoenix.

Drawing to a close one of the most exciting, if ultimately unsuccessful, teams in recent history, the Dallas Mavericks snuffed out any hope for the Suns to sneak into the playoffs this season with an emphatic 140-116 victory on Sunday.

A fitting end to the Suns' high-scoring, fast-paced, aesthetically-pleasing style, Dallas beat Phoenix at their own game by running them right off the floor en route to 81 first-half points.

The Suns trailed by 22 at the half and never threatened.

The game served as the final nail in the coffin to the Suns season and signals the end of their reign as a Western Conference powerhouse.

No longer as efficient playing at such a break-neck speed, with veterans Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal unable to truly thrive in such a system, the Suns were exposed once again as a poor defensive team that now lacks their old ability to simply outscore the opposition.

The Mavs pushed at will, with Jason Kidd piling up 20 assists in just three quarters as Dallas dismantled the Suns in a must-win game for Phoenix. Most startling for Suns fans had to be the lack of competitiveness in such a critical game, as they were dominated from start to finish.

"Not in a million years would I have thought we’d come out and play that way in a game of that significance," Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry said.

With the Mavericks owning the tie-breaker, they would have to go 0-5 and watch the Suns win out to give up their playoff spot, spelling doom for Phoenix and effectively ending a frustrating season in the desert. 

The Suns were never able to find their identity this season, struggling to balance a deliberate pace, centered around getting the ball inside to Shaq, with their famous propensity to run with Steve Nash as their fast-break maestro.

Terry Porter lost his job only four months into his stint, as he was unable to succeed in improving Phoenix's porous defense and in implementing a more methodical offense that ran through O'Neal.

However, the promotion of the Mike D'Antoni disciple Gentry was not enough to spark the Suns to a playoff spot either, leaving a team with many unanswered questions heading into next season.

It should be a tumultuous offseason for Phoenix, as general manager Steve Kerr must determine the fate of star forward Amar'e Stoudemire and figure out how to reshape a rapidly aging roster that is no longer of playoff-caliber.

Shaq, Nash, and Hill are all on the wrong side of 30, and Stoudemire has yet to prove he can carry a team on his own.

The Suns will still be talented next season no matter how they remake the team, but in the Western Conference, where 50 wins does not guarantee a playoff berth, Phoenix looks to be headed in the wrong direction.

R.I.P. to the Phoenix Suns that we all knew and loved.

The league will be far less compelling without you.