Steve Nash, the greatest basketball player in Canadian history, also happens to be the man who has done the most damage to Canada’s sole franchise, the Toronto Raptors.
In honor of Bright Side of the Sun’s awesome Steve Nash Internet Day, several bloggers were asked to share thoughts, stories, and feelings on Steve Nash. I could have looked at the charity work, his developing comedic side, his two MVP awards, his role in the re-establishment of up-tempo basketball, and probably three dozen other angles (or more, as we’ll see tomorrow when Steve Nash Internet Day goes live). I couldn’t though. I couldn’t take an angle, couldn’t applaud his fledgling filmmaking or honorable community work, or even look at his obsession with another major sport, soccer, and what that could mean for his Life After Ball.
And that’s because there is one Steve Nash memory in my mind that resonates whenever I hear his name. He is one of my favorite players of all time, an icon in my country of Canada (and it kills me that he doesn’t play for our National team), and one of the best point guards in NBA history. Still, though, my predominant Nash quick-association-game answer is How Steve Nash Stole Christmas (kind of…it was a Christmas gift, anyway).
It was January 3, 2007, the holiday season, and Steve Nash was in Canada to lead his Phoenix Suns into battle against the Raptors. It was a night that was meant to be as much about Canadian basketball as Nash himself. His return was a big deal to many, and I’m sure this ticket was a hot Christmas item a few weeks prior (the number of children in the crowd confirmed this). The attendance was 20,063, which marked the fifth largest regular-season crowd in Air Canada Centre history at the time.
This was also, of course, his first game in Canada since winning his second NBA Most Valuable Player award. Before the game, Nash was awarded the 2006 Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year. So it was Canada’s best athlete returning home to face Canada’s only team.
One could basically write the script from there…of course Nash was going to beat the Raptors, disappoint the fans while also enthralling them, and send everyone home both happy and sad.
But three quarters into the game, that wasn’t the story at all. Nash was 1-for-7 from the field, and a short-haired Chris Bosh and then-point guard Darrick Martin lead the Raptors on a 10-0 fourth quarter run to cut what was left of a 15-point halftime deficit. It seemed as if Nash wouldn’t play the hero or the villain, but would be a background player in an otherwise exciting game.
But, as superstars often do, Nash found his rhythm in the fourth quarter, dropping 13 of his 15 points in the final eight minutes of the game. The lead had been cut to a single point (82-81) when Mike D’Antoni called a timeout with 7:48 remaining. Nash immediately missed a 15-footer, a shot he rarely misses open, and Anthony Parker hit two free throws to give the Raptors a one-point lead. The seven minutes that followed were equally impressive and frustrating, if not expected.
Nash hits a three-pointer. Diaw scores off an offensive rebound. Raptors call a time out. Nash hits the same 15-foot jumper he just missed. Nash assists on a Diaw 15-footer.
In between, the Raptors scored just once. 91-85 Suns, a six-point advantage rebuilt.
Darrick Martin, playing maybe his best game as a Raptor (14 points) hit a jumper to cut the lead to four, and two minutes passed without a basket being scored (Nash had a turnover, a missed field goal, and an offensive rebound). After a timeout, Andrea Bargnani hit a deep three, and another minute passed without a point being scored. Then Chris Bosh made a lay-up in traffic.
92-91 Raptors, 1:23 to play.
Steve Nash hits a three-pointer. Bosh hits a lay-up And-1. Nash is fouled on a three-pointer and, of course, ices all three free throws. 97-95 Suns, 43 seconds to play, Raptor time out.
Bargnani called for a charge, Nash with another mid-range jumper, Raptor timeout.
In the 7:07 of play since Anthony Parker gave the Raptors their first lead of the quarter, Steve Nash had put up 13 points on 4/5 shooting with an assist and an O-board, with only one turnover. The Suns had totaled two points that didn’t involve Nash scoring or assisting, and they were on a second-chance bucket off a missed Diaw lay-up.
Anthony Parker hits a three with four seconds remaining, and the ACC goes nuts. 99-98 Suns. To this day, it is the loudest Raptor game I’ve been to (I haven’t been to a Vince Carter return game, obviously). To say everyone was on their feet would be clichéd but true. Four seconds left, and the Raptors force the inbounds pass to Marion, who makes just one of two freebies. Two point game, one possession left.
And then Darrick Martin heaves a half-court shot well over the backboard to end the game. Ouch.
100-98 Suns, game over.
Nash’s final line was not that impressive – 15 points, four rebounds, nine assists, one steal, seven turnovers, 5/13 shooting. It is, looking back, one of his least impressive statistical performances since he became Steve Nash.
Even on his worst day, I guess, Nash can beat anyone.
And that’s why this Steve Nash Internet Day is so rewarding to me as a fan. Sure, he’s one of my favorite players, he’s a two-time MVP, and he’s back in the limelight leading a resurgent and surprising Suns team (ignore the last two weeks, please), but he’s also one of the very few players who can transcend stats, despite his statistical dominance.
Nash’s most memorable game for me is one that would be glossed over looking at his game logs. He received a raucous ovation for the Conacher Award, was largely invisible for 39 minutes of play while the crowd gathered collective hope, and then he took it away, leaving everyone in disappointed but appreciative awe. As it was scripted.
For his career, Nash’s numbers against the Raptors are absurd – 15.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 50.8% shooting, 48.5% three-point shooting, 96.5% free throw shooting. The rebounding and assist averages are his largest against any team. Since he became a Sun in the summer of 2004, his record against the Raptors is an unblemished 12-0. It is 6-0 in Toronto, so this account happens to be but one of six in recent times, but the only one I was there for, and unquestionably the most painstaking.
Nash did very little all game, and then did everything when it mattered. And that’s what Steve Nash does…he fills the stat sheet, he makes others better, he wins games, he frustrates opponents, and he dazzles even the most casual of fans.
And he leaves writers without the appropriate words to describe his career, or a particular game where he went from hero to villain in nine and a half short minutes. He’s that good.