You could hear the talk dwindling.
No more was Steve Nash's name mentioned along with the other top-tier point guards across the league. Gone were the glory days of his two-time MVP run when he dropped dimes at will and led ultra high-tempo Suns as the highest scoring team in the league. He was getting too old.
In fact, sports writers even suggested it was D'Antoni's scheme that made Nash what he is. It wasn't Nash's court-vision, smarts, and unorthodox layups that won games, it was merely Mike D'Antoni's scheme that made Nash what he is. The best part in the slap-in-the-face article to Nash is below:
"Most important, has anyone seen Steve Nash lately? Look, I love watching Nash and I remain grateful that he helped make the NBA entertaining again. But there are two objectives in basketball (score and defend) and over the years he was exploited defensively more times than Lindsay Lohan. That meant we were voting a DH as MVP. Twice.
"I voted for Shaq in 2005 and Kobe in 2006—well, in my mind I did—and Nash didn't make my top four either year. Begrudgingly, I grew to accept Nash's stature even if I disagreed with it: He made teammates better and made a seemingly frantic style work for a contender, and his numbers/percentages appealed to stat geeks everywhere (17 points, 11 assists, 51-91-44 FG-FT-3FG in his MVP years).
"Fine. In the big scheme, rewarding an exceedingly likable player twice didn't rank among the 200 worst sports atrocities of this decade.
"Then D'Antoni left and Nash's numbers quickly and not-so-coincidentally dropped back to his pre-Phoenix numbers in Dallas. You know, when the Mavericks decided to let him leave after Mike Bibby torched him in the 2004 playoffs. Check it out:
Nash, 2003-04: 78 games, 14.5 PPG, 8.8 APG, 47 percent FG, 41 percent 3FG, 92 percent FT.
Nash, 2008-09: 24 games, 15.5 PPG, 8.5 APG, 48 percent FG, 42 percent 3FG, 94 percent FT.
Still One of the Best
Get real. Not only has Nash not dropped off, but he is still one of the premier point-guards in the league.
Oh and by the way, Nash averaged 16.5 points-per-game, and a league-leading 11 assists-per-game this past season without D'Antoni, so suck it Bill Simmons. Watch Steve Nash play the game of basketball and it's clear how great of a player he is.
The guy plays the NBA game like it is a video game. He uses his amazing savvy to use defenders against themselves, his vision allows him to dribble around in circles only to find a teammate slashing into the lane, and his balance and unorthodox shots allow him to loft up off-balance shots that find their way to nothing but net.
Is he a sub-par defender? You bet. Is it a game-killer? Not at all. His unique offensive game is more than enough to overlook his inability to guard quick point guards. Plus, team-defense is more important than individual defense in the NBA anyway.
He is still amongst the elite point guards in the league. Lump him in the same category as top point guards Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Rajon Rondo. He does not have the athletic ability as the others, but his smarts and court awareness are by far better than any other point guard in the game today.
While defense has always been his and the Suns downfall, this year is different. Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals showed us why.
Nash came out of the gates like a madman, scoring 17 first-quarter points, slashing his way into the paint at will, and dropping in jumpers left and right. He set the tone from the start of the game, and was his
old normal self.
It is not unlike what he has done to the Spurs before in previous playoff games against the rival Spurs. He worked the pick-and-roll flawlessly and saw things on the court before they even happened.
However one thing stands out this year that didn't stand out in years past: defense and mental toughness. While the 2007 series may have been the more physical battle between the Suns and Spurs, Game One of the 2008 series stands out to me vividly.
The Suns had the home-court advantage in 2008 like they do this year, and Game One in 2008 was a game Phoenix should have won. They held double-digit leads in the second-half, and were up by five with under a minute remaining.
Yet, San Antonio kept fighting, and eventually won in double-overtime, with help from a lucky Tim Duncan trey. Phoenix could have fouled and sent San Antonio to the line for two shots instead of allowing them the chance for a three-pointer to tie the game, but chose not to.
Last night we saw Phoenix up by 14 with just over eight minutes remaining. The Spurs then went on a 13-0 run to cut the deficit to just one, with 4:26 remaining.
In previous years, Phoenix would lose their focus defensively, and let San Antonio keep the game close and eventually take the lead if they weren't getting fast-break points. The more the Suns let opposing teams score, the more it hurts their offense, as they aren't able to get out and run.
Not this year. Nash and the Suns dug in and went on a 9-2 run over the next three minutes that saw Phoenix get stops on the defensive end which translated to transition buckets on the other end.
For the game Nash recorded 33 points and 10 assists in just another day at the office, but this time his teammates buckled down on defense, and combined with his usual play as the floor general, the Suns took home the Game One victory over the hated San Antonio Spurs 111-102.
Since 1991, Nash has scored 30 or more and dropped 10 or more dimes during the playoffs more than any other player. The next closest are some guys called Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
When you have a point-guard who is as good as Nash is running the show, combined with a team-defensive effort, there is potential to really do some damage in the NBA Playoffs. I know everyone is looking for a Los Angeles-Cleveland matchup in the Finals, but don't sleep on Phoenix for a second. Nash and the rest of the Suns are an elite team in this league with enough talent to legitimately compete for a championship.
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