PHOENIX — If it weren’t for San Antonio, what would’s career look like?
Nash has done just about everything in his illustrious career aside from beating the Spurs when it counts, losing to them six times in postseason play through the years, many times with a squad that had championship potential.
So during the first quarter of Monday’s Game 1 between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, Nash wasted no time asserting himself as a dominant force in the series, burning George Hill for four early layups in just over three minutes on his way to an overwhelming 17-point first quarter that set the tone for Phoenix’s 111-102 Game 1 victory.
“I was fortunate to get some opportunities early to be aggressive and try to put some life into the building and our team, and fortunately I got off to a nice start,” said Nash, who scored as many points in the first 3:11 as the Mavericks scored in the first quarter of Game 6 against the Spurs. “You never know what the game’s going to present, but you have to be willing and aggressive to do whatever you can.”
After struggling through a hip strain in a very un-Nash-like effort in Game 6 against Portland, Two Time felt refreshed with the three full days off in which the Suns had him sit out of practice to rest his ailments.
It’s not unusual to see Nash take over a fourth quarter by scoring himself, but I can’t ever remember him taking over a first quarter in that way. Typically he tries to get everybody else involved in the opening stanza, but he was feeling it and led the way to a nine-point first-quarter advantage for the Suns that ending up standing up.
“He was huge, coming out, hit some shots, just dominated the game in the first quarter,” said. “That gave us a lot of energy. Normally Steve’s a guy passing the ball, but when he takes over a game like that it gives you a lot of energy.”
Added, “We just kind of fed off of his energy, and he really did a great job of coming out of the gates for us.”
Judging by the stat sheet, this was a game of three on three between both team’s stars, as all six stars scored at least 20 points and nobody else in the game even reached double figures. Nash finished with 33 and 10, the fourth-most points he’s ever scored in a playoff game and the most since going for 39 in 2005 against the Mavericks. Also, Amare went for 33 and 13 and J-Rich contributed 27, meaning the Suns improved to 30-4 when he goes for 20.
“When he gets his confidence going and is knocking down shots we’re a really good team,” Nash said of Richardson.
On the other side Manu, Tony and Tim went for 27, 26 and 20, respectively, but it wasn’t enough on a night Phoenix held the Spurs to 45.8 percent shooting as a team. Aside from George Hill’s nine points on 2-for-9 shooting, no other Spur scored more than six points, as Richard Jefferson recorded a disappointing five points while taking just three shots in over 32 minutes.
“It’s crucial to have the right people shooting the ball, so toward the end I was trying to leave Richard Jefferson, make him be the guy shooting it,”said. “He didn’t really want to be the shooter. He wanted to be more of a slasher-driver.”
In all the Suns’ Big Three tallied 83 points, 22 boards and 10 assists on 61.5 percent shooting as J-Rich went for at least 27 points for the fourth time this postseason, while the Spurs’ Big Three accumulated 73 points, 18 boards and 12 assists on 50 percent shooting.
The Spurs twice went on monster runs in the second half, ripping off a 12-0 spurt early in the second half to take a three-point lead after the Suns led throughout the first half, and then after Phoenix rebuilt a 14-point lead and seemed set to cruise to the finish San Antonio reeled off a 13-0 run to cut the Phoenix advantage to one with about four and a half minutes left. But the Suns answered right back with a 9-2 run capped by a monster J-Rich three to salt the victory away.
“We know they’re the type of team, we’re not going to really blow them out like we did Portland,” Hill said. “They get down 10, 14, 15, they’re going to keep playing. We’ve got to do a better job to prevent those runs, but we were able to regroup, focus and get back playing. Hopefully whatever happens in Game 2 we can’t afford to have those runs.”
Prior Suns teams likely would have wilted upon either run. Those are the types of runs San Antonio has always made, combining smothering defense with timely offense.
But on this night every time the Spurs connected with a haymaker the Suns had an answer, and it all started with Nash, who looked for his shot early and slithered his way to a monster first quarter.
You’ve got to think watching Nash battle so hard raised the level of play of his teammates as they saw just how badly their captain wanted to earn this victory.
“I think Steve wants to beat this team as bad as any player here,” Dudley said. “I think this team has had his number. I think now he knows this is our time, this is the right team. This is not the same Spurs team in the past. It’s still a very good team, a very well-coached team, but I feel like this is a great opportunity for us, and now we took advantage of Game 1.”
That they did, and if Nash can deliver three more performances like this he might finally get past the San Antonio roadblock.
- Nash doesn’t sense that he will suffer any setbacks from his strained hip after feeling good tonight.
- The Suns won the battle of the boards 44-38, limiting the Spurs to nine offensive rebounds. “As a team we did a really good job on the glass, and that’s important for us,” Nash said. “I think for our team if we can keep people off the offensive glass we really give ourselves a chance of winning.”
- Nash recorded his ninth career 30-point playoff game and his sixth postseason career 30-10 game, his first since May 8, 2006. Nash’s teams are undefeated in the playoffs when he goes for 30-10. … The Suns have scored at least 110 in every game against San Antonio this season. … The Spurs are winless when giving up over 100 points this postseason but undefeated when they don’t. … The Suns have won five of six in the playoffs. … Phoenix is 18-8 all-time when winning Game 1 and 5-5 all-time in Game 1s against San Antonio. … The Suns won their first Game 1 since the 2007 first round against the Lakers.