By Ben Golliver
Steve Nash ended his 52-day injury absence in impressive fashion on Saturday night.
The Lakers' point guard, who suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left fibula during a minor collision with Blazers guard Damian Lillard on Halloween, returned to the court for the first time under former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, hired to replace the fired Mike Brown in November. The Lakers, now 13-14 overall, were 12-12 without him.
Nash jumped right back into the thick of it, scoring 12 points and dishing nine assists while playing an eye-popping 40 minutes in a 118-115 OT win over the Warriors at Oracle Arena. His highlights, which can be seen above, included a strange haircut, two pretty three-pointers and lobs to both Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.
Nash and the Lakers will next take the court against the Knicks at the Staples Center on Christmas Day. For now, here's a roundup of the reaction to Nash's return.
"It's easy. It's very easy. It's beyond easy,'' Bryant said about playing with Nash, who had missed 24 straight games while recovering from a small fracture in his lower left leg. "You put two guys together who can do opposite things and it fits extremely well. When I get a rebound, I look to get the ball in his hands because I know I will be getting an easy shot.''
"To play 40 minutes after seven weeks was more than I could ask for," Nash said. "I felt in a decent rhythm. I feel positive about it. We'll see (Sunday). I'll have to keep working on it. I know it will be sore and painful but I'm used to that."
While still early in the season, D'Antoni's team was in search of something to save them even with Bryant and Howard playing. And Nash was viewed as the needed jolt. The seasoned guard didn't disappoint on Saturday, slicing through the Warriors' defense time and again to create open looks for Kobe Bryant and others.
"I'm not oblivious to what people are saying and what is expected in a lot of corners," Nash said. "But for me, I just try to embrace pressure. When you look back on your career, it's playing with pressure and playing in key minutes that you're going to miss. So you might as well make the most of it while it's here because that's not something we are going to face the rest of our lives."
“It felt great having him out there,” said Gasol. “It makes me feel more sure about what we do out there when he has the ball, because I know something is going to come out of it.”
“Earlier in the season, a game like this I think we would have lost,” Gasol said. “We haven’t been able to come back, especially on the road when we got down by, let’s say, a double-digit lead for the other team. I think tonight we showed that if we continue to work we can give ourselves a chance.”
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that Nash would have no minutes limit and that proved to be the case as the two-time MVP logged 41 minutes, tallying 12 points and nine assists in the win.
"The guy is a winner," D'Antoni said of Nash after the game. "There was a difference before the game. He changes everything. He changes the whole perspective."
Nash's 12 points and nine assists gave a glimpse of what's to come this season, especially how he orchestrated the team's offense late in the game. The Lakers were down eight when he entered the game with 8:52 left in the fourth.
Immediately the Lakers scored six straight to climb within two. Nash hit a three-pointer with 1:46 remaining in regulation and then the game-sealing basket with 16.9 seconds left in overtime.
Even with Kobe's terrible miss at the end of regulation, Los Angeles had new life in them to go out and take the overtime period. Kobe came back in overtime, scoring six of the Lakers' 10 points. But it was a Steve Nash dagger to put the Lakers back up three with 16 seconds left in the game that left the Warriors scrambling in the final seconds of the game.
And that's the difference between having Darius Morris or Chris Duhon on the floor and having Nash out there. Adding one of the best shooters of all time is rarely a bad thing.
Clearly the story going in to the game was the return of Steve Nash. How would he impact the game, and how much could he give? Well, he played a very D’Antoni-esque 41 minutes in his first game back, and he didn’t look like he was laboring, so his conditioning seems adequate. Nash also controlled the offense almost from the outset. Basically every minute he was on the floor before the 4th quarter, Nash completely controlled the offense, using pick-and-rolls from the point. Time after time, he would weave his way into the lane, some times to success, some times to failure. Some were the fault of Lakers bigs not finishing easy baskets, while others were simply Nash getting trapped and having no outlet. Nash finished with an impressive 12 points and nine assists, including a huge three in the 4th and his patented, one-legged, mid-range jump shot in the lane to seal the game in OT. His impact was immediate, and the validity of all the “wait for Nash” arguments seem supported now.
Steve Nash's haircut has engendered a lot of nicknames. Gatsby. Jimmy Neutron. Skrillex. Well, here's another one for you: Peter Pan. Because he just guided us all on a magical journey to a place where the impossible happens all the time.
Twelve hours after the fact, last night's contest against the Golden State Warriors still doesn't make sense in any way. For nearly two months, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone about shattering our hopes and dreams with one disappointing performance after another, and the one overriding theme has been that the Lakers need their stars to be in top form just to have a chance of beating anybody. Steve Nash was billed as the guy who could come in and fix everything. With Nash, the Lakers offense would run more smoothly, and that success would cascade throughout the roster and into the defense.
Well, in the first game of his return, Steve Nash didn't fix anything. He just made it all irrelevant.