As if coming off the bench wasn’t enough of an anomaly there was this: at 40 years old Steve Nash was the second best point guard on the floor. He was better than 22 year old Kendall Marshall. He was better than the back up point guard of the Wizards, Andre Miller. He was not better than John Wall, the rising superstar. No one expected Steve Nash to suddenly be something he was not; he is not twenty five. He is not thirty five. That said, no one expected Steve Nash to play again this season, not in an NBA game that’s for sure. No one expected that in a backup role against a playoff team Steve Nash would have 11 assists. No one expected Steve Nash would give his team hope just by being Steve Nash- the great one. But when Steve Nash was in the game directing the offense the Lakers were able to cut into the Wizards lead and resemble an NBA team. The ball moved from side to side. Players moved without the ball. There was activity and motion. Steve’s presence created confidence on the court and inspiration, not because of his age, or his broken leg, not because of a temporary triumph over back issues and the nerve root irritation, certainly not because his disastrous tenure with the Lakers suddenly erased itself. But because this is the stark truth about the Lakers back up point guard, the forty year old. He is still Steve Nash. And on the court he can still do things.
A car gets a flat tire and you put a donut on the broken wheel. Driving home is bumpy and a little slow. That is the offense with Kendall Marshall. He can get his teammates shots but they are not easy shots. No one is beaten off the dribble. He cannot create. The rest of his game is slow. He can’t run a fast break and finish at the rim. He brings the rest of the team to his level. Really, it is not his fault that he has to play on the perimeter but it is the truth. He cannot adapt to anyone else’s speed but his own. He operates at one level, the rest of the NBA functions at another level. These are the facts. Kendall cannot get into the paint. He cannot score. Because he cannot score he is never guarded. He can make a three now and then and he can make a mid range shot now and then but you cannot trust him with the ball in his hands if no one is open. He cannot blow by people. The league is too explosive; the Wizards certainly are. You see why they cut Kendall Marshall sending him straight to the D-league. Do not pass go. Do not collect millions you may have made if you were quicker. Kendall tried to atone last night. He tried to make the Wizards regret cutting him. Kendall carried with him the animosity and the desire for revenge. The heart was willing but the game is on empty sometimes. Kendall is not a skilled shooter. He can’t rise up and hit a contested three. He cannot dribble, stop and shoot. He cannot catch and shoot. He can’t get into the paint, stop, change directions and finish at the rim. And he can’t guard anyone who does any of those things either. So teams force him into creating a shot for himself and he fails. When he fails his confidence slips. When his confidence slips the entire teams falls into no man’s land alongside him.
But at 40 Steve still has his dribble. He can still circle all angles of the court. He can still make his I-don’t-believe-he-just-did-that Steve Nash crazy man pass. He had four turnovers but three of them were ridiculous passes his teammates were not expecting and they reacted too late. They are not used to Steve Nash; often they are lazy. One turnover was a behind the back pass intended for Sacre that John Wall picked off. It was not good judgment. But what he did for Sacre last night was what the Lakers thought he would do for Dwight Howard. Simply he made Sacre look like a top 10 center. It is the brilliance of Steve Nash that was on display. Despite the Lakers losing, Steve Nash made everyone who was on the floor with him appear better than they were. And then he did the most incredible thing, almost the impossible. Steve Nash made himself look better too.
But 19 minutes played is what is says it is. 19 minutes. That is all. Bring up Steve Nash in one sentence and in other sentence you have to bring up his suffering. It is always around the corner. Last night he went to the locker room early as a precaution. All it takes is for Steve Nash to fall in the wrong place or to get picked off on a screen in the place of his greatest fragility. The nerve root is on fire then. Basketball is a game of contact. Steve is a guard who never stays in one place. He is going to get hit, he is going to fall, he is going to fight through screens, he is going to get fouled hard, he is going to run into big guys. When that happens Steve is back to square one. How does he play 25 minutes a game and stay healthy when his body resembles glass. One crack is nothing. Two cracks are nothing. But three or four deliberate cracks and then it all shatters into pieces.
How much longer can he do this? Play, get hurt, rehab, play again. Steve has been very candid about what this particular journey has been like. He has admitted that this long fight has taken him to “dark” places. He was asked by Chris McGee of Time Warner SportsNet if he had lost his identity as a basketball player because of his prolonged absence. In the NBA when you are absent you are forgotten. Steve admitted this is his ongoing struggle, this so human calculus. How do you keep your mind right when your body is failing, when people think you should quit? How can Steve Nash be a basketball player if he cannot play? If the pain is too much? Complicating all of it is that Steve wanted so badly to do special things in Los Angeles. It was the only reason he signed. It is his greatest failure. And his greatest source of agony. And because he cannot take it back and because he cannot do it over and because he is 40 years old he has to leave us with these disparate pieces of himself. His agony is no one’s ecstasy as he endures this private war. His body or his mind- what wins?
Not to belabor a point but the Lakers gave up a lot for Steve Nash. They compromised Dwight Howard. And Phil Jackson. They hired Mike D’antoni. Fans regularly talk about the Steve Nash deal as if it is a bad taste in their mouth. The money was supposed to be his savior, his cure. He is being paid a lot. He has done very little. He should be satisfied. But Steve Nash is an athlete at his core so competition is all that satisfies. Besides it can be both things. The money. And competing. Last night, Jerry Stackhouse said that listening to Steve Nash inspired him to want to start training for a comeback (almost). It is the greatest attribute about Steve Nash the player, his effect on everyone around him. And in these last days of his career, the effect he has on himself is just as revolutionary. Go big. Or go home.
But there is no escape from what is. Steve Nash has been an incredible disappointment even if it is not his fault. It has been an uphill struggle to get healthy. There have been moments when Steve has made it seem worthwhile. And other moments of huge regret. It sounds like a war, all of this carnage and abuse, all of the pleading for it to end. Lets salvage something.
But wars take a long time. Spain lost the Netherlands in the Eighty Years War. Cuba had a Ten Year War. This is the Steve Nash 17 Month War. His body has been taken hostage. His mind is often a prisoner. He returns for a tour of duty only to be called back in to start all over again. The War may end the way most wars end, without concessions. Without peace. Without a winner or a loser. It just might be that Steve Nash has to lay down his weapons and surrender. He just may have to leave the battle behind knowing he did what he was supposed to do. He fought until the end.