PHOENIX — If you want your son or daughter to learn how to play the point guard position, pop in the tape of Steve Nash Sunday evening against Washington. Two Time was downright transcendent.
Nash played the position about as well as you could play it, practically pitching a perfect game by scoring 20 points on perfect 8-for-8 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 shooting from the line to go along with 17 assists and just two turnovers in Phoenix’s 125-108 blowout of Washington.
Nash became the first player in NBA history to twice record 17 assists without missing a shot since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77. Only three other players have done this once and the list isn’t too shabby: Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Mark Jackson. Nash also pulled the trick April 3, 2007, when he hit four shots and dished 17 dimes in Memphis, and before that it hadn’t been done since Stockton in 1994.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Nash became the second player in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) to post a 20 points and 10 assists game without missing a field goal or free throw, and that hasn’t been done since 1985 when Lester Conner did it.
“About as efficient of a game as you could ever have,” head coach Alvin Gentry said of his star point guard’s performance. “When he’s feeling good he’s played as well as any guard in the league.”
Nash asserted himself scoring-wise in the first half as he tallied 16 points to go with “just” six assists, hitting shot after shot to help the Suns come back from a double-digit deficit for the fourth time at home this season and the second time this weekend.
In the third quarter he switched into distributor mode and started setting up so many alley-oops I could have sworn I was watching an All-Star Game.
Nash assisted on five alley-oops in the quarter to four different players, starting the half off with back-to-back alleys to Jason Richardson and the suddenly high-flying Channing Frye. Grant Hill, Hakim Warrick and J-Rich again eventually got into the mix as the Suns successfully opened up the middle for those lobs and Nash dished eight assists in the period.
“I think the more we get people involved the more efficient we become as a team,” Gentry said.
The Suns used a strong defensive third quarter in which they yielded just 17 points on 35.3 percent shooting to get out and run and essentially put the game away.
When the Wizards cut the lead to 12 with 5:13 remaining, Gentry called timeout and re-inserted the starters. Nash promptly handed out three more assists and in just over 2:30 the starters were back on the bench after an 11-5 run with the decision no longer in doubt.
This game also marked the return of Hakim Warrick to rotational relevancy after combining for just six points in 16 minutes the past two games. Warrick poured in a season-high 26 points on 10-for-13 shooting as Nash found him time and time again diving down the lane for easy buckets. All of Warrick’s makes were in the lane area and all but two of them were right at the rim.
“Whenever you play with that guy, he’ll find you,” Warrick said of Nash, who assisted on six of his 10 buckets. “Just knowing if you attack the rim he’s going to find you. Right before you think you’re open the ball’s in your hand. All I have to do is go to the rim and go up strong. It’s a big reason why I came here, to play with a guy like that, and I’m just fortunate to play with him.
“Not too many point guards can go and make the type of passes and get you the ball the way he gets you the ball.”
Gentry said that Warrick set more aggressive screens in this one, which caused the big man to stay with Nash for a split second longer, which thus opened up the middle for a rolling Warrick.
When Warrick himself wasn’t benefiting from a Nash pass he was opening up the perimeter for his teammates who knocked down 58.0 percent of their shots (even including Earl Barron’s 3-for-9).
“He was huge for us tonight,” Richardson said of Warrick. “He kept rolling down there. He actually got some open shots for myself, Channing, Jared, Grant by just rolling down there, Steve finding him and just opened up the floor for everybody.”
Warrick played 28:47, Dudley played 25 and Hedo, Goran, Childress and starting center Earl Barron all played 16-20 minutes in the latest edition of lineup roulette.
Last game Jared Dudley was the big bench contributor, and in Golden State Turkoglu saw significant time off the pine.
“I don’t see this as a team like last year we pretty much knew what the set rotation’s gonna be,” Gentry said. “I don’t know if this team’s gonna be that this year. I think we’ll have guys who need to step up. At the end of the day if you get the same results then you’re in good shape.”
The Suns do like having Barron in that starting lineup for the activity he brings, and Gentry expects him to eventually hit some of the makeable shots around the rim he missed tonight.
After winning the battle of the boards 43-37, the Suns have now outboarded the opposition twice in his three starts after doing so just once in their first 17 games. The team is also undefeated since starting Barron.
“I just think we have made everyone conscious of that as a coaching staff and we say we’ve got to pursue the ball, and we’ve done that,” Gentry said. “Also I think we’ve done a little bit better job of boxing out, keeping guys from flying in and rebounding the ball for second shots, and because of that we’ve done a pretty good job.”
With just enough progress on the rebounding and defensive side of things, the Suns improved to a season-best-tying two games over .500 thanks to another superb offensive performance buoyed by Nash’s Hall of Fame game.
Warrick on adjusting to sporadic playing time: “You’ve got to know no matter what when your number’s called you’ve got to be ready to execute and perform.” … J-Rich has scored at least 20 in seven straight, his longest streak since 2008 with Charlotte (nine games). … The Suns have won six of seven in US Airways Center and eight straight overall against Washington. … The Suns are 3-0 in December for the first time since 2007-08. … Warrick has recorded four 20-point efforts off the bench this season. … Barron tallied seven points and eight boards (six offensive) in just 16:31. … Frye’s career-best streak of double-digit scoring games ended at 11 after his seven-point effort on 2-for-8 shooting.