Phoenix Suns 123, Houston Rockets 116 -- What a difference Nash makes

Steve Nash's return sparked the Suns to a road trip-salvaging win in Houston. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Steve Nash's return sparked the Suns to a road trip-salvaging win in Houston. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Steve Nash won his first MVP award in large part because of how bad an otherwise spectacular Suns team was in his absence during the 2004-05 season.

Although I doubt Nash will ever be known as “Three Time,” the contrast between Saturday’s ugly loss in Charlotte and tonight’s pretty (offensively at least) 123-116 win over Houston proves once again just what Nash means to this basketball team.

Aside from preventing the horrors of more time for Jared Dudley at the point, Nash sparked the Suns from start to finish by carving up the Rockets for 24 points and nine assists while putting up a +13 in his 37 minutes of work.

Nash’s best stretch came when he re-entered the game with 5:16 left in the first half and the Suns up two and willed an 18-4 Phoenix run in which he assisted on four Suns field goals. Off the strength of that run, Phoenix went into the break with a 14-point halftime lead.

Later on his beautiful feed at the rim to Jason Richardson for an easy two as the shot clock expired that put Phoenix up eight with 37 seconds left finished off his masterpiece.

“He is the engine that drives the car,” Gentry said of Nash. “He comes out and makes the plays and knocks down the big shots.”

While we have known that for years, after watching the Suns play two games without Nash and one game with a gimpy No. 13 who wasn’t himself, it’s startling to watch how different Phoenix’s offense is with MVSteve. With Nash, you always feel like the Suns can get a good shot, whereas they went cold for long stretches against Orlando and Charlotte when they just couldn’t get the kind of attempts that Nash gets them.

If last week was a glimpse of what the post-Nash era will look like, Suns fans better be sure to enjoy what Nash means to this offense for as long as he’s in Phoenix.

But it wasn’t just Nash. All of the starters scored at least 15 points, led by Jason Richardson’s 26 (12 in the fourth), and Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress chipped in with 10-point efforts that gave the Suns seven guys in double figures. Phoenix as a team shot 53.8 percent.

Defensively, they were the same old Suns, particularly during Houston’s 71-point second half that was just barely held off by Phoenix’s 64-point half.

The Rockets missed all 12 of their threes and shot 40 percent in the first half, but they wound up shooting 49 percent for the game and knocked down 6-of-14 threes in the second half.

Houston also (surprise, surprise!) decimated the Suns on the glass, racking up 18 offensive boards on its way to a 51-33 rebounding advantage. Former Wildcat Jordan Hill grabbed 10 off the bench to go with 14 points as the front line of Hill, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller pulled down as many rebounds as the Suns did as a team. They helped the Rockets score 24 second-chance points and 62 points in the paint.

“Wins are hard to come by. Any win on the road is a great win,” Gentry said. “Our offensive rebounding and second-chance points have been our downfall. We’re happy with the win and we will build from it. Our offense won the game for us. We need to get our defense to make the necessary stops for us to win down the stretch.”

The Suns’ offense is good enough that they will be able to outscore struggling defensive teams, but that’s not much of a blueprint for success in the NBA, particularly against teams that do defend as we saw earlier in the trip.

But that offense is good enough that Lon Babby and Lance Blanks should be doing everything possible to bring another rebounder (oops, shouldn’t say another because that presumes somebody on this team rebounds in the first place) to town and hope Robin Lopez recovers from his knee injury and develops into a force on the boards.

It’s a testament to how good this offense can be that the Suns could get outrebounded by 18 and give up 71 points in the second half on the road yet still pull out a victory.

As the Suns were trying to blow what had started out as a 15-point fourth quarter lead, Hedo Turkoglu hit the biggest shot of the night, as he has done in Phoenix’s last three victories. A Kevin Martin three-pointer had just cut the lead to three when Richardson missed a jumper with just over 2:30 left.

But Grant Hill, who played a superb game in accruing a 17-7-7, tipped the rebound out to a waiting Turkoglu, who drilled a three-pointer to stretch the lead to six. The Suns never were seriously threatened again as they knocked down all their free throws down the stretch.

“It’s always great to finish a road trip with a win,” Turkoglu said. “We didn’t start the trip well. This was a good win.”

Although the Rockets are struggling at 3-10 and were without their point guard (Aaron Brooks) and center (Yao), this qualifies as a good win in my book. I expected Houston to be a playoff team when the season started, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they storm back to fight for one of the final playoff spots with the Suns. In April this win will shine much brighter than it does tonight.

For the Suns, as Grant Hill was saying on the postgame show, it was important just to feel what winning was like again after barely competing in their last three ballgames. Finishing this road trip 1-3 really isn’t so bad when you consider the Nash and Lopez injuries and the fact they were probably going to lose both in Florida regardless and the Bobcats always play them tough in Charlotte.

I’ve been writing almost every game about how the Suns must prevent themselves from getting buried by their brutal early schedule, and as the schedule eases up at least a touch they have done that, winning in Utah, Atlanta, Los Angeles and now Houston while weathering injuries to Lopez and Nash and figuring out how the pieces fit.

The Suns must improve greatly defensively and on the boards to become a legitimate playoff threat, but their offense has proven to be good enough these first 14 games to keep the Suns afloat with a .500 record.

And 1

Nash decided to suit up about an hour before the game after missing the past two games with a groin injury. “Not too bad,” he said of the groin. “My reoccurring injury was OK, but I bruised my heel in the first quarter and I was limping a bit from that. I’ve been working real hard to come back and I had it in my mind to play and I was ready. My soreness was down.” … Nash surpassed the 15,000-point and 8,500-assist plateaus for his career in this contest. … Phoenix went 7-of-13 from three (53.8 percent) to end its drought from long range, meaning the Suns shot the same percentage from three as they did overall.

Tags: Steve Nash

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  • KJ Loyalist

    You know the gloom and doom portion of this that talks about the post-nash era? I still don’t buy it.

    I really think that when they give Dragon the keys to the car for all 82 games, people will feel at ease.
    The team goes as the leader goes, and as great as Nashty is on O he is terrible on man-defense.

    Dragon is disgusting in all areas of D. The team will be a lot younger when he takes over but they will be a pretty good nucleus.

    As far as the game goes, 500 again and that’s fine considering the stretch we’ve gone through. We keep talking about D but that has to happen in house. Lawal needs to be tossed into the fire, not into the D league.

    Outside of that, the bench mob needs to drop the hammer like last year. May as well find more minutes, (5 at least?), for EC – pair him up with Warrick and take advantage of that length + active lockdown skills from JMZ and Dragon.

  • Anfernee Hardaway

    There will never be another Nash again. Dragic has the potential and the skills to prove it, but can he do it consistently like Nash? Nash brings the competition.. He always has that fire in his eyes like every possession means something. That’s what Dragon Dragic needs to understand, to be a great point guard.

    That’s why Jordan & Kobe are greats. Because they were consistent, unlike most other players out there who has the potential, but let’s their emotions get the best of them.

  • Robert

    KJ, Dragic is nowhere near the player Nash is. Dragic as much as I love the Dragon is not on the same level as even the top 15 point guards in the league. It may even be a stretch to throw him in the top 20. Nash on the other hand is a two-time MVP and one of the top 4 PGs still at age 36. While the offense will look better than it did in Orlando and Charlotte when Nash is gone, the team itself will be a lottery lock with the current roster. Lopez just isn’t very good, dudley is nothing more than a 7th man, Childress will be a solid starter and may be the best young player on the team, Warrick is nothing without a great PG (See Chicago and Mil), Turk is Turk… You get the picture. This team is fueled by Nash/ Hill/ Jrich with a spice or randoms. Without Nash, as we saw the last few days, the Suns Future is bleak.

  • Mirza

    So why not get something for him while we still can instead of making the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed and get bounced in the first round .. There will never be another Nash but that window of a championship opportunity sailed long time ago .. Sarver wont trade his best player because he is a business man and he would lose a lot of $$ obviously .. I love Nash but its time to rebuild

  • KJ Loyalist

    A lot of you guys are typing stuff as if you don’t remember Nash when we drafted him out of college.

    You know, that guy that we brought in to sit around and, at the time, said that would amount to nothing more than a backup and interestingly enough shipped him away to Dallas because we didn’t seem to think that we could groom him.

    Only to get unbelievably lucky to get him back while still in his prime and watch him turn into “Two-Time” – Am i the only one that remembers this transition in time?

    I was upset then when the Suns gave up on Nash because I thought that we should have groomed him to take over and become the eventual destroyer, (as he ended up doing and should have continued doing in Dallas).

    The attitude now is exactly the same in regards to Dragon. Dragon has all of the tools and his progression is quicker than Nash was in his first 3 years in terms of on-court importance and trust while leading the offense. It’s like nobody is seeing this.

    The dude is an absolute monster when you give him full control and minutes, (he isn’t getting NEARLY enough minutes!), and I don’t mean emergency minutes when we suddenly sit Nash down against powerful teams that we don’t match up well against even with Nash healthy.

    Dragon has all the tools. His vision improves almost by the game. His defense is sick. He is explosive on offense. He is fearless and he plays with that competitive disrespect when he knows his coaches and teammates have full confidence in him. He can’t continue to evolve with what, 13 minutes a game? 11 vs. Houston. It’s madness really and if anything, he should get time on the court WITH Nash because he’s nice off the ball too.

    I surfed through the DDL chat today and somebody mentioned that Dragon will end up another Barbosa if this continues and that is what I am most afraid of. Road Runner was a scorer and should have been treated as such and not a 6th man-turned-try-hard-point-guard. Dragon is the captain of the ship in waiting, but he isn’t being brought along as such. They should be building on last season, but Gentry has gone in the other direction with it and that is why you’re getting the irregular performances night in and night out.

    It’s the young Nash situation all over again if something isn’t done, and this Dragon is better than that Nash 3 years in with the potential to lead us on offense WITHOUT being a defensive liability.

  • Steve

    I’m pretty sure KJ is either Goran Dragic or Goran Dragic’s mother. One of the two. Every single time you post, you create an opportunity for yourself to praise Goran in some way.

    I like Goran Dragic, but he is never going to be an NBA superstar. His ceiling is top 10 PG in the league. He’s never going to break the top 5, and he’s certainly never going to be the best like Nash.

    I agree that he needs more minutes in order to realize his potential, I just think you’re going to be disappointed when you realize that Goran Dragic is a 16-7-4 player instead of the 22-11-6 player you make it seem like he is.

  • Martin

    Great win for the Suns!

    7-7 after such a brutal schedule is more than anyone expected, all the more after that preseason.

    finally we get some breathing air.
    - 7 of the next 10 are at home
    - these 7 are all winnable (CHI, LAC, Ind, Was, Mem, Por, Min). should be 6 Ws at least
    - even the three road games are winnable (DEN, GS, Por)

    then there’s another brutal 4-game strech:
    vs. Mia

    X-mal / new year should be good
    vs. Phi
    vs. Det

    January looks good too …

    lets GO SUNS!

  • Ryan

    I agree with Steve. The Dragon got those minutes in Orlando and Charlotte but didn’t produce. He is good but won’t be a Nash, CP3, DWill, or a Rose at any point in his career. He will be able to lead a team to the playoffs with the help of some other allstars to play with. He is NOT the answer to bring a ring to Phoenix.

  • iceman

    KJ, Dragic will get the team when he’s earned that role. However, right now, he’s a backup point guard with flashes of brilliance. He should be getting more minutes, but right now, the team floats or sinks on the abilities of Nash. The team needs Nash, they play Nash more. Maybe once the team is in the doldrum months (Dec-Feb) Dragic will get more time. Nash will break down at this pace.

  • Jane

    Nash makes this team so special, and that’s what superstar does in the NBA. This superstar can change the game with his plays.

    All of Playoff teams (especially in the West) have their superstar, Nash, Kobe, Dirk, Duncan, CP3, D-Will, Roy, Melo, Durant. Why didn’t other West teams win? Simply, they don’t have a superstar. If you look at the rosters of Kings or Grizzlies, you find a bunch of talented young guys, but none of them are superstars and/or leader. That’s the difference. To be a good team, and a great team, and the champion, they always have to build around a superstar.

    That’s the main problem in the Suns’ future. Without Nash, they are more or less like Kings or Grizzlies. Dragic can be a decent PG in the league, like Mike Bibby?, but I don’t think he will be a super PG like NASH.

  • KJ Loyalist

    @Steve – I’m not related to Dragon, but I did sing a petition to make Angelina Jolie adopt his brother so I guess I see where you’re coming from.

    Also, your response and others like Jane make my point for me.

    Right now we all see greatness in Nash. When we drafted him though, 95% of the valley didn’t think he would be anywhere near as important as KJ was.

    Now Dragon is here and again, 95% of us don’t think he is the answer post-Nash.

    People keep talking about D Will / CP3 / D Rose but they were allowed to blast off straight out of the gate. They didn’t have to wait behind a HoF player. Their progression has been fast and steady.

    The way PHX is going, we won’t be in the lottery and the future supporting cast isn’t as attractive as it was when Nash came back. So it is Dragon soon and they may as well get him as many minutes as possible now so he is ready to kill when Nash is gone.