Somehow, Steve Nash returned to the Los Angeles Lakers lineup during a 117-107 loss to the Washington Wizards on Friday night, and he did so to the tune of five points and 11 assists in only 19 minutes of action.
It was the first time the future Hall of Famer had suited up since leaving a Feb. 11 contest with the Utah Jazz after just 16 minutes of action. Nerve irritation in his back was making rehab tough for the floor general, to the point that the Los Angeles Lakers had actually ruled Nash out for the rest of the season.
ESPN.com reported the news a week before Nash's return:
Steve Nash won't appear in another game for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
Coach Mike D'Antoni confirmed the decision Thursday after saying earlier this month that he doubted that Nash, 40, would return after being plagued by nerve-root irritation in his left leg much of the season.
"He's not going to play," D'Antoni told reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It doesn't make any sense for him to come back for 15 games, whatever."
Well. So much for that.
Nash played, and he performed admirably. Although his efforts weren't enough to boost the futile Lakers ahead of the Wizards, he still recorded a rather impressive line, and he left an indelibly positive impression.
D'Antoni confirmed that he didn't want to push Nash (11 dimes) in the final few minutes, but was impressed/encouraged w/how he looked.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 22, 2014
Never give up.
Nash's back issues had left some feeling as though retirement was more of a "when" than an "if." He was even officially ruled out for the season by his own team, but he still managed to beat the odds and suit up for the Lake Show.
Hopefully this won't be a one-and-done type of appearance. But even if it is, we still managed to learn quite a bit about the 40-year-old floor general in his 19 minutes on the floor of Staples Center.
1. Shooting is Going to be a Work In Progress
Even though Nash did manage to drop in five points on 2-of-4 shooting, including a three-pointer, it's abundantly clear that the point guard's scoring prowess is going to take a while to rediscover itself. Mike D'Antoni's offensive system may be a free-flowing one, but Nash needs time before he regains confidence.
Heading into the game, the Canadian point guard was averaging 7.6 points per contest while shooting 36 percent from the field and 31.6 percent beyond the arc. He topped both of those percentages on Friday night, but he also took only four attempts in his 19 minutes on the court.
That translates to 7.6 attempts per 36 minutes, which is less than the dozen looks he was attempting per 36 minutes before being sidelined with the injury.
Nash's shot may have looked good, but only because he was especially careful with his shot selection.
Until he works his way back into the flow of the offense, he's not going to force up shots—never has, never will—as he's one of those players programmed to make the most-efficient decisions on the court at all times.
That hasn't changed, even if his scoring output has declined.
2. He Doesn't Like Fighting
Have you ever seen a player look so hesitant to get involved in a scuffle?
3. He's a Passing Legend
If you're like me, you're completely convinced that Nash could record a dollar's worth of dimes at 80 years old while playing in a wheelchair. Hell, he could probably find a way to do so while playing with a walker.
Few players have ever possessed the type of vision he does, and that was on display once more against Washington. In only 19 minutes, Nash managed to dish out 11 assists, although he also turned the ball over on four separate occasions.
Good grief. Yet another pass right on the money on the break by Nash. So damn good.— Ben Rosales (@brosales12) March 22, 2014
Let's put that in perspective.
Before tonight's action, there were 281 games this season in which a player recorded at least 11 assists, according to Basketball-Reference. Out of all of them, only five guys had managed to do so spending 25 minutes or less on the court:
- Devin Harris, 18 minutes and 11 assists
- Russell Westbrook, 20 minutes and 14 assists
- Kobe Bryant, 23 minutes and 13 assists
- Ricky Rubio, 23 minutes and 11 assists
- Shelvin Mack, 24 minutes and 12 assists
Well, it was. You can now add Nash to the list, as he fits in just behind Harris, taking only an additional minute of action to hit 11 dimes. But still, when you consider the context, this has to be one of the most impressive passing performances that the NBA has seen in 2013-14.
Steve Nash making Allen Iverson proud, showing he doesn't need to practice before returning— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 22, 2014
Practice? Who needs it?
Nash went from working out and trying to rehab to throwing up an 11-spot in the assist column in the time it takes most players to blink. That's just not supposed to happen.
Nash got Meeks 2 sets of FT's with more transition feeds, w/3 of 4 going down to get LAL within 8 at 106-98. Hill, meanwhile, has 4 blocks.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 22, 2014
Plus, if passes leading to free throws counted as assists, the performance would seem even more stellar.
4. Having Steve Nash on the Court Is Fun
Above all else, Nash reminded us just how much fun basketball can be.
This has been a rough season for the Lakers, one that has left their fans with precious little to cheer for. Injuries and losses have piled up, and it's become increasingly tough to find silver linings, with the exceptions of the role players who seem to take turns going on hot streaks and having standout performances.
But when Nash strode out onto the court, he gave everyone something to celebrate:
The reception, which you can hear up above, was quite loud.
Steve Nash gets a loud reception as he steps on the Staples Center floor. Clearly, these are not the fans who call into sports talk radio— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 22, 2014
And why shouldn't it be? Nash may have been called "selfish" in the comment sections of a few too many L.A.-related forums, but that's only because he's been paid an exorbitant sum while working hard to rehab his 40-year-old body.
When he was on the court, the ball moved, and he consistently granted fans in attendance and those watching on television a display of distributing artistry. He looked smoother than he had at any other point during the 2013-14 campaign, even if he "tweaked something" late in the game:
Nash said he tweaked something in the 4th Q, and thus didn't return to risk further injury. May end up missing a game, but feels OK overall.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 22, 2014
Here's hoping he doesn't miss any more than that one game.
Nash said he was having so much fun playing that he didn't want to do anything worse to end the fun for the rest of the season.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 22, 2014
For the first time in a while, we got to see Nash play with a certain flair. A joie de vivre, if you will.
No one wants to see that go away before it has to.