PHOENIX — On one of the many days leading up to the start of the Western Conference Finals, I asked Jared Dudley how he felt about the national media not giving the Suns much of a chance in the series just as reporters hadn’t given Phoenix much of a shot all season.
Dudley said something very interesting: he only listens to Steve Nash when it comes to these things.
JMZ is not alone in that feeling. The Suns boast a room full of youngsters that lean on Nash’s every word, so when the two-time MVP says something as poignant as his Game 5 postgame proclamation that the Suns would “go back and do the same (hold home court) and we’ll come back here for Game 7,” you know his younger teammates were listening.
“It’s big,” Dudley said. “It shows you that he’s confident, he’s ready, we’re confident behind him. I expect us to win Game 6. Why can’t this be our year?”
Dudley even followed in Nash’s footsteps by tweeting on Thursday night: “Man!!!!! We let them off the hook.. It’s ok will go back home handle our business in game 6 and get another shot come Monday..”
Those are awful confident statements from a team going up against the defending champions, a squad Phoenix has not beaten in Staples Center in five attempts this season, and Ron Artest for one seems to think Nash is showing the Lakers “no respect.”
But it does show that while the rest of country is already gearing up for Lakers-Celtics, Phoenix’s local basketball team still expects to win this series.
It’s kind of out of character for Nash to make a guarantee like this. He clarified his statement a tiny bit on Friday while repeating its essence by explaining, “I didn’t say, ‘Ah, Joe Namath walked in with his fur coat,’ I just said we’re going to come home and win Game 6 and come back for Game 7.”
I think that Nash said it for his younger teammates who look up to him so much to show them that in his eyes there’s no question the Suns will be spending Memorial Day in Los Angeles. It’s the kind of thing that leaders do, saying the right things at the right time to motivate your troops.
“That’s the captain,” Jason Richardson said. “That shows a lot of grit to say that. We definitely feel the same way, and it’s definitely not going to be an easy challenge. We’re definitely not saying we’re going to whup them or anything like that. We’re definitely going to do whatever it takes to win this game, whether it’s diving on the floor, diving in the stands, whatever it takes. We’ve got to win tomorrow.”
Added Amare Stoudemire, “It’s a great attitude. Confidence. Every time you go into battle you’ve got to have confidence, so we feel we have a great chance.”
Nash’s proclamation also serves to take the heat off teammates like Richardson, who failed to box out Artest on the last play of Game 5, and Amare, who grabbed a mere four rebounds in the last game, and focus the attention squarely on himself.
It’s also possible — maybe even likely — that there was no grand plan behind Nash’s statement. We’re not talking about Phil Jackson after all. It’s possible that Nash was just being honest like he always is and just really, really thinks there’s going to be a Game 7.
Regardless of the reason after a gut-punch loss that had to rank among the worst of Nash’s illustrious career, his Nostradamus act was the perfect antidote to prevent any potential “woe is me” feelings in the Suns’ locker room.
So while this isn’t quite as gutsy as the Westphal Guarantee, it’s the perfect remark to make about a Suns team that honestly expects to be heading to Los Angeles Sunday afternoon.
“We can’t make him look bad,” Grant Hill said.
Mike Schmitz contributed reporting.