There was a time not so long ago, earlier this season even, that the Phoenix Suns’ fortunes paralleled the performance of their two-time MVP.
If Steve Nash was locked in, the Suns were locked in. If Nash was off, the Suns were off. The momentum of the team essentially lived and died by their offensive maestro.
But the Suns have evolved, particularly this season. They have evolved into a team that thrives when Nash is on, yet still finds a way to win when he’s off. Thursday’s Game 6 elimination of the Portland Trail Blazers was pristine evidence of this evolved group and their ability to get the job done “without” their biggest veteran leader.
Nash, in some aspects, may as well have sat in the locker room during this game he was suffering so badly from a strained hip. In the first quarter, Nash handed out four assists, but he scored ZERO points and to top it off racked up SIX turnovers.
In the second quarter, Nash spent some time getting to know the Rose Garden visitors’ bench. He entered at the 3:42 mark and within the minute scored his first point of the game, a free throw on a technical foul. Less than a minute later, he notched his season-high-tying seventh turnover. Final line for the half: one point, five assists, seven turnovers. Not exactly characteristic of a two-time MVP who averaged 16.5 points and 11.0 assists during the regular season.
The second half was better for Nash, as he tallied nine points (four from free throws, but five points from the field is still infinitely more than he scored in the first), an assist and two rebounds. Oh, and zero turnovers.
This analysis isn’t meant to simply Nash bash, though, as he did do some good things to finish with a plus 15, such as nailing a momentum-swaying three-pointer with 2:33 to go in the game and then after a stop drawing the defense for a nice dish to Amare for a bucket on the next possession to give the Suns an insurmountable 12-point cushion.
Of course the hip Nash strained before Game 3 was really bothering him during Thursday’s game, so there is that to explain the performance — but only to a certain degree.
So Nash had an off night. Even Michael Jordan had off nights (kind of). What matters more in this game was that the Suns didn’t collapse because of that off night. They found a way to make up for what was missing and grind out the victory.
Jason Richardson helped fill the scoring void by continuing his outstanding play that we’ve seen all series. Goran Dragic displayed some of the skills he’s learned from Nash as he efficiently ran the offense. And Jared Dudley provided a spark, as he often does, in the absence of Nash’s natural energy.
This is not a necessarily a new development, it is simply under a bigger microscope in the playoffs. Nash struggled at times during the regular season while battling back and abdominal issues, but that didn’t sink the Suns. Nash was shut down on occasion by elite defenders, but that too did not always break the Suns.
That the Suns were able to keep it together and find a way to win without a significant contribution from one of their star players is a testament to the well-rounded nature of the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns. Moreover, it is an important departure from the Suns teams of old that leaned heavily on Nash’s efforts to carry them in crucial moments.
While it’s more than fair to assume Nash will not have many more performances like he did on Thursday night, it’s also fair to assume that this Suns team will be all right if he does have another off game.