For the past two-plus decades the Phoenix Suns franchise has been defined by superlative point guard play.
From the great Kevin Johnson to Jason Kidd to Stephon Marbury and of course Steve Nash, the Suns have always reaped the benefits of having an elite player running the point for them, with the torch being passed from star point guard to star point guard with but a few months in between since KJ arrived in the Valley in the late ’80s.
It will always be debatable which point guard shined the brightest during his Suns career (well, except for the fact that it’s not Starbury), but in Wednesday’s 120-103 victory over the New Orleans Hornets Nash laid claim to the franchise’s all-time assists belt, surpassing KJ’s record of 6,518 with a nifty fast break dish to Josh Childress early in the third quarter.
In a season that has seen a Steve Nash-led offense look mortal for the first time all decade, it’s fitting that Phoenix’s offense was prolific at SSOL levels in a vintage Nash masterpiece in which Two Time exploded for a season-high 30 points and 10 assists while shooting 13-for-16 from the floor, his first 30-10 game since January 2010 and the first in the league with just one turnover since Derrick Rose did so last March.
Two Time sparked the Suns’ best offensive game of the season with an efficiency of 126.3, an effort that was 78 percent better than their putrid 71.0 performance in Portland five short days ago. The Suns had only posted offensive efficiencies higher than 111 twice this year before Wednesday.
Nash is a maestro at taking what the defense gives him, and it showed tonight. Throughout the years he has burned defenses that go under the screen on a pick and roll, dished it his roll man when there is an open passing lane and found open shooters when a third defender fills the lane to defend the pick and roll. That’s not to mention his genius in the open court.
In this game the Hornets seemed determined not to let Nash beat them with his passing in the first half so instead he attacked them with his shot as Nash scored 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting at the break.
“They were trying to step back when I was getting in passing position to take away the passing lanes so I was trying to be aggressive and was able to make some shots,” Nash said on the Suns’ postgame show.
That all changed in the third quarter as Nash charged out of the gates with three assists in the first two minutes after dishing two the entire first half. He then assisted on three Josh Childress layups in the matter of a minute, and just like that he was the Suns’ assist king.
That Childress — a player who didn’t even leave the bench in blowouts before last Friday — scored on Nash’s tying and go-ahead assists along with the next one for good measure must have been the biggest upset of the night, but it was a beautiful sequence of typical Nash.
On the tying assist Nash took advantage of a mismatch as he so often does with J-Chill posting up Jarrett Jack, and the swingman flicked in a shot before the New Orleans defense could rotate. Then the Suns forced a turnover and Childress leaked out ahead of the pack and caught a pinpoint pass from Nash on the move before laying it in for the record. On the Suns’ next possession both Childress and Marcin Gortat screened for Nash and the resulting confusion found Childress all alone for a bucket, which is so often the case off a Nash screen and roll.
“Ooooo, I gladly take that,” Childress told The Arizona Republic. “I’ll have to tell my grandkids someday.
“You have to make sure you’re not just watching (Nash). You’ve got to move and play with him. But it’s cool to see him do that and do it consistently is incredible.”
But Captain Canada didn’t come to New Orleans to set a record; he came for a victory. With the Suns once again struggling without him on the floor, that would have to wait until the fourth quarter.
The Suns led 95-94 when Nash re-entered the game with 7:59 remaining. Phoenix immediately exploded on a 21-2 run to turn what had been a close game throughout into a rout.
Nash orchestrated the spurt with seven points and two more assists, including a dagger of a three that put the Suns up 14 less than three minutes after he returned.
In rolling up 120 points — both a Suns season high and a season high for a New Orleans opponent — on 52.6 percent shooting while shooting 40 percent from three and racing out to 18 fast-break points, this was very much the kind of victory Steve Nash has led the Suns to time and time again throughout his tenure as Phoenix’s star point guard.
As has been the case more or less throughout the past seven and a half years, the game turned in Phoenix’s favor with the two-time MVP on the floor. The Suns outscored the Hornets by 29 in Nash’s 29 minutes, which means they were outscored by 12 in the 19 minutes he sat. No other Sun was better than plus 19.
However, Nash still got plenty of help on a night Grant Hill missed the second half with a sore knee, giving Childress the opportunity to start the half and finish off the record-breaking assists.
Gortat poured in 23 and 11 (typical for him these days), Channing Frye 16 and seven and Jared Dudley 15-3-3 with three steals. Childress scored eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and chipped in four boards in 21 productive minutes, and Ronnie Price was a defensive menace in his 16 minutes of play.
Sebastian Telfair even did his part to keep the Suns in the game when Nash rested with a nine-point flurry in the final minute of the third quarter that included a steal and some of the most determined ball I’ve ever seen Telfair play. He was fired up after receiving a technical during that sequence and gave the Suns the kind of boost they’ve seldom received from Nash’s backups.
Of course, all this came against a New Orleans team that has won twice in its past 20 games, yet on the night Nash became the Suns’ all-time assists leader it was fitting for Phoenix to win a game in the same fashion that Nash’s great teams racked up so many regular season victories, with Two Time doing it all on the offensive end.
- Nash tweeted: “Shout out to @KJ_MayorJohnson. Historically underrated, one of the all time greats.”
- Nash’s first career assist as a Sun came on Nov. 2, 1996, when he drove down the middle against the Houston Rockets and dished it to Danny Manning for a layup. Last year Manning was an assistant coach at Kansas for Nash’s current teammate, Markieff Morris. Talk about six degrees of Steve Nash.
- Suns.com posted an extensive feature Jeramie McPeek wrote about Nash before his rookie season for those interested in a trip down memory lane.
- You really know it was Nash’s night because he blocked his first shot of the season when he got Greivis Vasquez in the game’s final minutes.
- For those already looking ahead to the draft, ESPN has unveiled its addicting lottery mock draft. From the few times I took a spin, Chad Ford seems to think the Suns are interested in Florida guard Bradley Beal.