Phoenix Suns 120, New Orleans Hornets 103 -- New franchise assist king


Steve Nash charged ahead of KJ to become the Suns' all-time assist leader. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Steve Nash charged ahead of KJ to become the Suns' all-time assist leader. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

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.

And 1

  • 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.

Tags: Kevin Johnson Steve Nash

  • Scott

    Well, the Suns have got me curious about the next game.

    Will they play with new intensity, or will they fall back into the old slow game?

  • Scott

    Oh … as for the draft … I’m surprised Chad Ford hasn’t latched onto Cody Zeller for the Suns. After all, he’s the younger brother of Tyler Zeller, and both of them are projected to go in the first round. ;)

  • Cam

    No matter what happens the rest of the season and beyond, it’s nice to know Two-time will be a part of the Suns record books for many years to come. KJ will always be my favorite Sun player. Go Suns.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    Well, as much as I love that game. Consistency has been the problem with these Suns all year long, with the exception of Nash & Gortat that is. One thing I’ve taken noticed is that Dudley seems to be accepting a new role in being a scorer which is a good thing. Atleast he makes good decisions, unlike S. Brown. Speaking of Shannon, I’m glad he didn’t play that much. I have nothing against Shannon, but he takes bad shots at a wrong time which eventually leads to a drought. Now that he didn’t play that much, see how things went smoothly? I hope it’s the beginning of something.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    Thanks Nash! one of the best play-makers of all time! You are in the story!

  • http://godaddy.com Big Daddy

    Congratulations to Steve Nash. Great win, I hope this team can keep playing with the same intensity, particularly the bench. I think Jchill has earned his minutes, and the more he gets the more he produces. Wheres Michael Redd? Is he just a waste of roster space? Anyhow, I’m sensing a winning streak for our beloved suns.

  • steve

    KJ is still my favorite Sun as well, but Nash is definitely worthy to have that record and many more. What a great player. If only the Suns could have been as blessed at the 2 and the 5 as they have been at the 1 and the 4.

  • MKM

    “… He then assisted on three Josh Childress layups in the matter of a minute …” – this is no accident, Childress should definitely play more. He is a good finisher at the rim, a perfect target for Nash!

  • Kyle Fleeger

    Anyone know if any player older than Nash has ever had 30 points and 10 assists in a game?

  • Scott

    @Elviro -

    Hey … great falling fadeaway 3 by Belinelli, by the way. :)

  • steve

    Jordan never managed the assists aspect of that feat, from what I know. Stockton never got the points. Payton was a long way from those numbers at this age. Kareem never quite got there on assists, I believe.

    I really can’t think of anyone else who lasted this long at this level.

  • Zak

    If Hill’s knee is still bothering him, sit him. I’d like to see what Childress could do as part of the starting unit. I don’t think he’s an NBA caliber starter but I’d still like to see what he can do as a starter and spending more time on the court with Nash. We tried Morris as a starter… he’s not ready for that level of competition yet. Experience may cure that but Childress already has experience. Let’s see what he can do playing against 1st line opponents. If it doesn’t work we can still bring Hill and his sore knee off the bench.

  • Grover

    I love that… Childress may not be an NBA caliber starter, but he might be able to start for the Suns. Unfortunately that’s our season in a nutshell.

  • Zak

    @ Grover – I was just wondering if Nash might make Chiildress a better player. Sometimes it’s who you play with that makes you really shine as a player. Childress is a good defender and seems to play well with Nash so I was just saying why not give him a chance. What do we have to loose at this point?

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    I got the answer from the Suns’ pharaoh of factoids, Vince Kozar.

    Nash IS the oldest player to go for 30 points and 10 assists. Dating back to 1985-86, he is the only player older than 36 to pull the trick and he turns 38 on Tuesday. It’s been done eight times by players 35 or older in that span, five times by Nash, twice by Sam Cassell and once by Larry Bird.

  • Sean

    I found the same answer as Michael: Nash’s game yesterday is the oldest any player has ever been when scoring 30+ points and dishing out 10+ assists. I’ve tried posting the link twice here but it’s not working. Instead I’ll paste the results here:

    Rk Player Age (Yrs-Days) AST PTS
    1 Steve Nash 37-359 10 30
    2 Steve Nash 36-085 10 33
    3 Sam Cassell 35-349 11 35
    4 Steve Nash 35-338 11 30
    5 Steve Nash 35-332 12 30
    6 Larry Bird 35-099 12 49
    7 Steve Nash 35-050 14 31
    8 Steve Nash 35-027 13 32
    9 Sam Cassell 35-016 10 30

    Nash has 6 of the 8 “most senior” 30-10 games. Bird’s was a triple-double, with 14 boards to boot.

  • steve

    Sean, where did you find the link to that info? I’d be interested in knowing what type of a site has that info on hand in a searchable format.

  • Sean

    steve, check it out here

  • Sean

    And here is the query I ran for the Nash 30/10 question.

  • MKM

    Thanks Sean! 81.3 FG% in 29 MP is the best as well! Truly something special! I have a feeling that Nash will add couple more 30-10 games before turning 40 … :)

  • Sean

    No problem MKM. By the way, I agree with your comment above that Childress should get more run. He brings some athleticism and defense that the team lacks otherwise.

  • Scott

    Childress is essentially a “Marion.” I just wish he’d correct his shooting mechanics so he could confidently take the shots that come in the offense.

    I was pleased to see him hit his 3 the other night.

  • steve

    Not every great shooter has perfect mechanics. Just look at Steve Kerr. However, I have no idea how childress made it through life without one coach saying, “You will not play on this team if you insist or shooting like an alien.”

  • Scott

    @steve -

    I don’t mean the funky release. Just the tendency to throw himself forward or to the side when shooting, only to see the ball travel the same distance and direction away from the basket.

    From what I’ve seen, in practice he only moves a couple inches. In games, with the adrenalin, and a defender flying at him, he moves more like a foot.

    Now, it could be that he has already addressed this problem. I’ve not been able to see his feet when he shoots in-game yet.

    If he’s fixed his tendency to float when shooting, then he probably goes back to being an accurate 2-3 pt shooter. After that, the next challenge is to get him to SHOOT, because historically, he just doesn’t do it. In ’06-’07 he jacked up slightly more than one 3 pt shot a game, and that was his most prolific year.

    I’d like to see him basically follow Marion, and have both a perimeter shot and a reliable 10 foot shot of some sort.

  • Sean

    BTW, I guess that basketball-reference database only includes games back to the 1980s sometime. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, John Havlicek had the old record for oldes t30 pt, 10 assist game. Still, Nash beat him by over a year: See the Suns’ entry (#24) here.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      Ha, I noticed that as well and actually saw the same thing in a graphic on Friday’s Suns broadcast. Yeah, the BR database only goes back to 1985-86, but indeed Nash still is the oldest.