If the Toronto Raptors had any kind of interest in Steve Nash before Sunday’s masterpiece, I wonder what they’re thinking now.
Nash dished a season-high 18 assists to lead the Suns to a 117-113 victory in Toronto that featured ball movement galore thanks to him. The Suns assisted on about two-thirds of their baskets, while the Raptors did so on only about half.
It was vintage Nash, as he whirled his way through the lane to find open teammates, tossed alley-oops, hit teammates in stride for threes and did everything he could to help the Suns offensively except score before turning on his own offense late.
He even turned the ball over just twice for a 9:1 assist:turnover ratio, and what coach wouldn’t take that?
At one point in the game Nash featured a bizarre stat line of just two points to go with 15 assists, before five free throws and a tough driving layup that put the Suns up three with 12 seconds left him with nine points for the contest.
“I just didn’t need to (score), just trying to find my teammates,” Nash told Suns.com. “If it’s working like that, I’m happy to sacrifice for my teammates to get them up. I’m happy to get my teammates involved.”
That’s the beauty of Steve Nash.
Nash was the star of the game despite scoring in single figures while six of his teammates reached the double-digit mark, including a 31-point effort from Amare Stoudemire.
But the reason his teammates were so effective in this one is because Nash was finding them, creating opportunities and giving them the ball in the right spot at the right time.
That’s what Nash has always done during this tenure in Phoenix, and Nash is the reason this particular Suns club is such a cohesive offensive unit (not to mention the last four).
Except for some rumblings at the beginning of the season when the offense had yet to find itself, we haven’t heard a ton of complaining from the “STAT”-conscious Amare Stoudemire. Next to Amare in the paint is a Big Diesel who likes to run his mouth about what he can do when given consistent touches whenever he has a big game, but Shaq has not become an issue either.
Then enter Jason Richardson, a guy used to scoring 20 per game and jacking up shots whenever he wants to after playing for bad Golden State and Charlotte teams most of his career, but we haven’t heard a peep out of him about wanting the ball more.
There’s also a point a minute (and sometimes shot a minute) sixth man in Leandro Barbosa, a former All-Star in Grant Hill and a solid contributor in Matt Barnes needing shots. And they all get them because of Nash.
Teams in the past have tried to let Nash score to beat them because when Nash is on his passing game like this the Suns’ offense is a flat-out juggernaut.
Phoenix scored 71 points in the first half and for the game shot 54.4 percent. The Suns always seemed to get a clean look because Nash was looking out for his teammates not himself. That is until the final play, when the Canadian was clutch with the tough layup.
“He sacrifices,” Shaq told Suns.com. “He sacrifices himself 1000 percent of the time. He doesn’t really take bad shots or he doesn’t really force shots, he is always looking for guys, sometimes when they are not even open.
“I know that he has sacrificed a little bit of his game for me this year, just throwing the ball in the post a lot. The true definition of a true great player is if you make your teammates better, and he has definitely made me better this year.”
Added head coach Terry Porter, “He has still been our MVP this year and really doing everything that we need him to get done.”
It’s kind of funny to hear Shaq utter such remarks in light of his disapproval of Nash’s MVP awards over the Big Diesel. But it seems like whenever a player gets the opportunity to play with Nash, they change their tune.
The bench was huge as well with Barbosa and Barnes combining for 30, and the Suns are such a better team when they get such contributions from their bench.
Both Barbosa and Barnes have a tendency to go hot and cold, but when they’re rolling this is really a deep and dangerous Phoenix Suns team.
It was also important to start the six-game roadie on the right foot, especially after those two past excruciating losses that Phoenix should have won. Aside from Monday night’s game in Boston, the Suns really should win every one of these, but when teams leave their coast there’s always the chance they fall flat on their face.
Toronto’s no slouch by any means, and a three-game losing streak with a trip to Boston on the docket would have really stung.
The Suns don’t have to worry about that in large part due to the contributions of Nash, who also dished 18 assists last year in Canada and clearly enjoys playing in his home country.
When faced with the inevitable questions about playing for the home nation team one day, Nash termed such a return “a dream come true in a lot of ways.”
That ought to make any Suns fan feel a bit queasy, especially in light of Sunday’s performance, but I bet we’ll hear a similar answer from Nash on Wednesday when the New York media takes a crack at him.
We all know Nash may be heading to Toronto or New York in a year and a half, and such a breakup may even be in the Suns’ best interests depending on what direction Phoenix plans to go in during the summer of 2010, but for now Suns fans should enjoy watching their two-time MVP pick apart defenses as much as his teammates enjoy playing with him.