PHOENIX – The terrain on Planet Orange isn’t what it was when the Suns traded Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers back in July. The man Suns president of basketball ops Lon Babby called “the sun, moon and stars” of the franchise had more light than all three combined shining on him when he made his return to Phoenix on Wednesday night.
“With the light in my face from the whole way from the bus to here, I couldn’t really see much,” Nash said dryly before the game, a podium and roped off press conference in the US Airways Center hallway replacing the usual grab-the-guy-as-he-dresses-at-his-locker routine.
“I haven’t had the chance to look around, but it still feels the same.”
Yet when the two-time MVP took to the court, it wasn’t. He was wearing yellow. His old protege, Goran Dragic, had been sitting in Nash’s old locker, glowingly speaking about his relationship with Nash. Dragic reminisced about the old days that seemed as long ago as it’s been since the Suns wore the black alternate jerseys they sported Wednesday in a 92-86 win.
Nash was very un-Nash-like Wednesday. He finished with 11 points and had two lonely assists in what was a painful loss for Los Angeles in a number of ways.
Never the personality to make a big deal out of it all, Nash said he had been too busy working the Lakers back into winning form to think about how the crowd would react to his return. He scored six early points but quieted down after the Suns played a highlight reel of their former hero to the chorus of Diddy’s “Coming Home.”
“There’s security guards, ball-boys, season-ticket holders,” said Nash. “There’s a lot of familiar faces here regardless of the coaches and players that have departed. In that respect, it does feel like coming home. And I’m happy to see all of those people and say thanks.”
Prior to the game, the emotions were hard to squeeze out of Nash, whose soft voice didn’t quite penetrate the three-deep group of reporters when he arrived with cameras following his every move. His only break came when former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni took the podium, allowing the two-time MVP to sneak into the Phoenix equipment room to catch up with old friends.
D’Antoni provided more emotion to the setting, even to the point that he nearly came across as regretful. He said his own departure from the Suns wasn’t the part he rethinks. It was how little time he had to cherish the moments with those Nash-led Suns teams that bothered him.
“We had great guys, great management … the fans were great, great weather,” D’Antoni said of his time in Phoenix. “Everything – there’s nothing you could ask for four years that was better than that.
“Sometimes you have a bunch of guys that, you think everywhere should be like this, you take for granted how they clicked and how good it was, how much fun it was to watch them every day,” he added. “You chase a championship … and sometimes you should take care of (the moment) a little bit better.”
But those days are long gone. Even Dragic recounted the good memories of Nash.
“He helped everybody,” Dragic said, then remembering Nash’s humor that to the public appeared as YouTube clips directed by the point guard.
The past-tense from Dragic, D’Antoni and Nash were telling of the present. These are trying days in Phoenix. Crowds like the one that appeared on Wednesday are rare-to-nonexistent. Purple hardly belongs nowadays. Winning is hard to come by.
And with the Lakers losing against the Suns after three promising wins — and seeing Dwight Howard go down with a shoulder injury — Nash and D’Antoni appeared like they were looking at the past just as the Phoenix fans were.
“This place is so special to me,” Nash said. “It’s a special, special place.”
“To be in front of hese incredible fans — I’m very grateful for the reception but also for my time here, which was the best years of my life.”
And on a night where Nash, D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns were caught up on the memories of the past, it’s a wonder if the future holds anything close in comparison.
“I hope the (Suns) fans can have some great teams to get behind,” Nash said.
Hoping for the best may never be enough to bring back the glory days.
Suns rally to beat Lakers in Steve Nash’s return
Michael Beasley caught the ball on the right side of the three-point arc, the game tied at 86. Metta World Peace stripped him, and Beasley stumbled in what you might call a Michael Beasley play in a nutshell.
But this time, Beasley kept his focus. He kept control, got up and with the shot clock winding down wiggled his way to the rim for a right-handed scoop shot. His 26th and 27th points gave Phoenix a lead they would keep, and P.J. Tucker was just physical enough with a driving Kobe Bryant on the ensuing Lakers’ possession to keep Los Angeles at bay as the Suns took a 92-86 victory at US Airways Center on Wednesday.
“Metta is so strong, man,” Beasley said. “When he knocked the ball out of my hand, I seen he didn’t try to reach for it. So once I picked it up and I had two seconds to go, only thing I was trying to do is get it toward the basket. That type of night, I guess.”
That type of night, indeed.
Beasley played in his best game yet as a Suns player, recording five steals and looking engaged even through mistakes. Phoenix overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half, survived a 15-point quarter and beat the Los Angeles Lakers 29-13 in the fourth to come away with a win. Shooting 51 percent heading to the fourth quarter, the Lakers ended up with a 42 percent shooting percentage by the end of the night.
Maybe it means nothing on paper, but beating the Lakers never means nothing.
“We really made some great efforts tonight, some second and third efforts,” interim coach Lindsey Hunter said. “P.J. Tucker, man, has got to be one of the best defenders in the league.
“Gortat had a double-double, I think he played well. Everybody really contributed to this.”
Nine turnovers plagued the Lakers early in the game, and Phoenix led 26-22 after the first quarter. But the Suns only scored four points in the first eight minutes of the second quarter and ended with 15 points in the period while shooting just 7-of-23 (30 percent) from the field. Gortat kept the Suns in it, thoroughly outplaying former teammate Dwight Howard with 12 points and eight rebounds – four of which were offensive – in the first half.
Gortat finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Tied at 41 at halftime, the Suns gave up 65 percent shooting in the third quarter to fall behind as many as 13, but an early fourth-quarter run saw them tie the game at 82 on a Dudley three-pointer with less than four minutes to play.
That play was a big one, and it was set up by Dragic’s kickout in a quiet but solid outing for the Suns’ new point guard. He finished with 11 points, eight assists and three steals.
Consecutive jumpers by Beasley and Scola gave Phoenix a four-point lead before the Lakers tied it back up. Then came Beasley’s wild score – it didn’t help Los Angeles that Howard left the game in the fourth with what appeared to be an aggravation to his injured right shoulder.
Bryant, recently more a distributor than a scorer, finished with 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting, nine assists and six turnovers. But as expected, he went into old Kobe mode late, blowing by Tucker, who didn’t give up on the play and got just enough of a contest on Bryant to force a miss on a layup.
“Just try to get a shoulder in front, try to make him make a tough shot,” Tucker said of his thought process on the play. “I knew he was going left, I know he can make a shot with both hands, I knew he was going left. Just missed the shot.”
Steve Nash when asked about his thoughts on retiring as a Sun: “I thought that was the way it would go. It’s a difficult business. It just became clear in the last couple of months before free agency (it wasn’t going to end that way).”
“I can’t really name the signs, but it just felt like they were going in a new direction.”