It seems only fitting that some blood ended up getting spilled in the latest Suns-Spurs showdown. This series has been a dogfight for years, and the Suns were finally the bigger dog — the much bigger dog.
The bloodshed came at the hands of a Tim Duncan elbow (his elbows may have their own hands — can’t confirm either way) to the face of Suns point guard Steve Nash with 5:47 to go in the third quarter. The ensuing gash may have conjured thoughts of the alleged Suns-Spurs curse for some, but six stitches later Nash was back on the court looking a little like Sloth from “The Goonies” (see above).
In an incredible show of toughness, Nash returned to the floor for the fourth quarter with the swelling in his right eye consistently increasing. The pirate-esque Nash was just as efficient as a two-eyed Nash, as he contributed 10 points and five assists in the quarter and made the Spurs walk the plank.
“I don’t know how it didn’t keep me on the sidelines,” Nash told reporters after the game. “At first I felt like, ‘Am I being selfish by playing?’ because I couldn’t see a lot.”
Nash had a hand in nine of the Suns’ last 10 baskets in what ended up being a nail-biter in the final minute and finished with 20 points and nine assists for the game. It’s old news that Nash is an aggressive man machine, but the courage and toughness Nash brought to the floor in the fourth quarter is totally unquantifiable. It doesn’t show up in the final box score. But all who saw it will know it contributed to the most important statistic of all: 4-0.
“Steve played well,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after the game. “There’s just something about the Spurs and that dog-gone right eye of his. If it’s not his eye it’s his nose — always something on his face.”
After fighting off a hip strain that held him back in Game 6 against the Trail Blazers, Nash turned out to be invaluable against the Spurs, averaging 22 points and 7.8 assists in the sweep. Add on the intangible leadership and experience, and the Spurs had no answer for Captain Canada.
For that matter, almost no one has had an answer for the 36-year-old, two-time MVP this season. Nash put together the best statistical season for a point guard over 35 in NBA history. He led the league in assists, started the All-Star game, won the All-Star Skills Challenge, influenced his teammates to eat better, helped foster some of the best chemistry in the NBA and mentored a budding young point guard. What more can you ask for?
“It started in training camp,” Gentry said. “He was just determined. He just said that we’re going to get back where we were and I’m going to see to that. The leadership that he’s brought to our team and what he’s done has been unbelievable.”
With more than a week off from play before the Suns (likely) meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals (did ANYONE think they’d be able to read that in October?), Nash’s eye should have plenty of time to heal up.
Nash’s play will be crucial against the Lakers. Though we have seen that the Suns can find a way to win without a major contribution from Nash, this is the top-seeded Lakers we are talking about. But then again, there was plenty of talk about how good the Spurs would be and what a tough series the Suns had ahead. That didn’t prove very founded at all.
For Suns fans, Sunday night’s win couldn’t have been much better. Amare Stoudemire was dominant, Nash put on one of his greatest displays of toughness yet and it all came on the hated Spurs’ home court.
Phoenix fans must now anxiously await what the Western Conference Finals have in store and what Nash will do next.