The Phoenix Suns have been abysmal defensively all season, and they’ve been just as bad offensively in games missed by Steve Nash.
That trend continued tonight after Nash went down with a weird spinal injury four and a half minutes into Phoenix’s contest in Dallas after colliding with Tyson Chandler, as the Suns mounted little resistance thereafter in a 106-91 Mavericks rout.
Nash suffered a stinger on the play and immediately lost all feeling in his limbs as he signaled for the Suns’ training staff. Nash stayed on the ground for a few minutes before retiring to the locker room as he started to regain feeling in his arms and legs.
“The impact didn’t hurt at all,” Nash told The Arizona Republic. “It was really light. It was the angle I guess. I had 10 seconds where I thought, ‘Oh (expletive).’ I couldn’t feel anything and my head was stuck. My eyes were moving and my head wasn’t. It was a very strange sensation. Obviously, I was really worried.”
Planet Orange was just as concerned as it watched Nash in a heap on the floor seemingly dazed and unwilling to get up at first, a sequence ESPN played over and over that started with a Caron Butler strip and then the collision with Chandler as both players tried to recover the ball.
Since Nash suffers from spondylolisthesis, an issue that concerns spinal vertebra, it’s a huge concern that this blow could knock his delicate body out of kilter. Two Time said after the game that he’s “optimistic” that he can return on this road trip if he continues to improve as much as he did by the end of this contest.
The Suns surely need him to heal quickly as they didn’t have much of a chance after closing the first quarter on an 11-1 to take a short-lived lead without him.
Goran Dragic departed a tied game at the 9:08 mark of the second, but when he returned at the 5:24 mark the Suns already trailed by nine, as Phoenix failed to get much of anything going offensively without a point guard.
Dallas continued to pour it on in the third, holding the Suns to 17 points in each of the middle periods as the Suns failed to get the kind of looks they normally do.
“The game changed without Nash,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. “He’s one of the best players ever. He was aggressive and was going to have a major impact on the game.”
Added Gentry: “Obviously it changes everything that we do.”
The Suns have now been thoroughly outplayed in all three games Nash has missed this season (and four if you count the Miami game when he was an injured shell of his usual self).
They have lost the three games by an average of 16.3 points per game while averaging 95.0 points per contest and shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 21.6 percent from three after tonight’s season-low 39.3 percent shooting performance that included 5-for-21 marksmanship from deep (23.8 percent). With Nash (even including the Miami stinker) the Suns average 110 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and nearly 40 percent shooting from deep.
As if we needed any more proof of how much Nash matters to this basketball team, the Suns entered the night 24.15 points per 100 possessions better with Nash on the floor, according to his adjusted plus-minus on Basketball Value, and even unadjusted the Suns are 16.48 points better with Nash. Offensively they average an off the charts 117.39 points per 100 possessions with Nash but just 102.90 without him, and that was before tonight.
Gentry defended the play of Goran Dragic in his postgame presser, but he’s still the understudy while Nash is the maestro. Dragic put up a solid line of 14 points and 10 assists in his 40 minutes, and the Suns were much worse when he rested and they lacked a point guard altogether. But he just doesn’t create the same kind of opportunities Nash does, and on a couple occasions he missed passes that Nash makes routine (although I suppose you can’t blame him for that).
Like a backup running back that gives a defense a different look a few carries at a time, Dragon is a great change of pace point guard for the Suns, especially when he’s out there with defenders like Dudley and Childress who can create the frenetic pace he thrives in. But the Suns have severely lacked offensive flow and become stagnant in their three games with Dragon.
Of all the stats without Nash, it can’t be a coincidence that they’ve gone from being one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league with their floor general to a team that can’t buy a long ball. Nash’s penetration creates so many open looks, shots they just didn’t get tonight.
The Suns must hit the three-pointer to win, as they dropped to 1-8 when shooting less than 30 percent from three (including all three games without Nash). They are 5-3 when between 30-45 percent and 6-2 when greater than 45 percent, according to ESPN’s game notes.
Phoenix mounted a mini-comeback to get as close as 12 after trailing by as many as 24, but the outcome was never seriously in doubt despite a relatively quiet 18-point night from Dirk Nowitzki. The Suns just didn’t have the firepower to make this a game once Nash departed.
The Suns lost the rebounding battle by just three and for once a pair of players put up gaudy board totals, with Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick both going for season highs of 14. Warrick grabbed double-digit boards for the second time all season and the first since October, and Frye did it for just the third time all year. Frye is now averaging a respectable 8.0 boards per game in December. … Josh Childress did not play even in garbage time, which was long enough in this one for Earl Clark to jack up 12 shots, so perhaps the Suns are heeding my advice by resting him. … The Suns’ next three opponents plus the Mavericks entered the day with a combined record of 78-24, good for a .765 win percentage. … Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that (surprise, surprise!) the Suns are shopping Turkoglu, and have talked to the Magic about him. … Nash ranked fourth among West guards after the first round of All-Star voting with 190,226 votes. He trails Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili.