Passing Fancy: Nash has 23 Assists, Suns Cruise Past LakersSteve Nash put on one of the best playmaking displays in playoff history as the Suns beat the Lakers 113-100 to take a 3-1 series lead. His 23 assists fell one short of tying the playoff single game record, jointly held by Magic Johnson and John Stockton; Nash's 15 first half assists tied a playoff record held by Johnson and Doc Rivers. Nash also had 17 points, though he shot just 6-15 from the field, well below his normal percentage. Amare Stoudemire had 27 points and a playoff career-high 21 rebounds and Shawn Marion also had a double double (22 points, 11 rebounds). The Lakers squandered Kobe Bryant's near triple-double (31 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) by offering little support outside of Lamar Odom (19 points, 13 rebounds, five assists), who is playing despite shoulder, elbow and knee injuries.
The Lakers were still within striking distance at halftime, trailing just 58-51, because Bryant had 20 points and four assists while shooting 8-17 from the field. Of course, the close score was really fool's gold, because the Lakers simply do not have enough firepower to win a shootout with the stacked Suns; the winning formula for the Lakers is to hold the Suns below 100--preferably below 90--while Bryant scores 35-40 points. The second half of these games is when the Suns really load up two or three guys on Bryant, daring him to either force up bad shots or pass the ball to his teammates--for whom even wide open shots are often an adventure. In the third quarter the Suns pushed the lead to 81-67 by the 1:38 mark. Odom had a strong quarter, finishing with 10 points, but Bryant had just four points on 1-3 shooting in that 10:22 stretch; he shot 2-2 in the last 1:38 but the Suns also made two baskets and were still up 85-71 going into the fourth quarter. ABC's Jon Barry said more than once that people who criticize Bryant for shooting too much are wrong because the Lakers' only chance is for Bryant to shoot the ball a lot. Mike Breen tried to make the case that Bryant should pass when he is double or triple teamed but he did acknowledge that what Dallas Coach Avery Johnson told his superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, also applies to Bryant: pass when you are triple teamed, score when you are double teamed and kill them when you are only guarded by one player. That is actually a pretty good description of what Bryant has been doing for most of his career--but the passing part leads to better results when you actually have good players receiving the ball.
The Lakers made a token run at the start of the fourth quarter but never even trimmed the margin to less than 10 points. It seems that the effort and intensity that they showed in game three was a one time thing just to avoid being swept and that now the Lakers--other than Bryant and Odom--are content because they won a game.
Nash's passing during this game was special, definitely on par with previous efforts by Johnson and Stockton (and recent performances by Jason Kidd). Nash is able to use angles and spins on his bounce passes that are simply uncanny--much like Johnson, Stockton and Kidd. Breen suggested that Nash might be the greatest passer and/or point guard ever, which is absurd. Johnson is the greatest point guard ever--and I can't see any coach taking a 6-3 shooter/passer over a 6-9 scorer/passer/rebounder who could also play forward and center. I'm not taking Nash over Oscar Robertson, either. During the Nets-Raptors game, TNT's Steve Kerr offered a much more sober and rational judgment, taking Johnson and Kidd over Nash, saying that Kidd has been playing at an ultra-high level longer than Nash has. Kerr abstained on the question of where Robertson would rank, saying that Robertson played before he was born (Robertson played before I was born, too, but I've seen, read and heard enough to know that he was better than Nash and Kidd; you could make a case that Robertson is in fact the best all-around player of all-time).
I'm not on board with Nash being the greatest passer, either. Stockton and Johnson hold most of the statistical records. What about the ability to deliver various kinds of passes--bounce passes, one hand passes, no look passes, post feeds, hitting cutters on the move and so forth? If that is the standard I would take Johnson--his size provided him passing angles that no other point guard has ever had and there is not a single kind of pass that he was not able to deliver on time and on target. It it amazing to me how quickly people forget what kind of player Magic was. I also don't think that Nash is doing anything from a passing standpoint that Stockton did not do both over a longer period of time and with greater proficiency (at least in terms of his apg averages).
Isn't it enough to simply appreciate what Nash is doing and to acknowledge that he is the best passer in the game today and one of the two best passers of the past decade (with Kidd being the other one)? When people start saying that Nash is the best of all-time I get the feeling that they are trying to retroactively justify the recent MVP voting. Steve Nash is a great passer and a great point guard. No one can deny that--but anyone who thinks that he is better than Johnson or Stockton needs to break out some old NBA tapes or DVDs or find some footage on YouTube.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:19 AM