Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Steve Nash Is Making Us Live With The Sadness

Portrait of the PG as an old athlete
So tonight I fired up the Lakers - Blazers game on TNT, wondering dully why the national telecast couldn't flex out to the wildly more entertaining Warriors - Mavs game, and I got to see what might be the last minutes of Steve Nash's career. Which is, to say, that I saw any minutes that Steve Nash played.

Nash, of course, is the oldest guy n the NBA at 40 years old, under contract for next year, determined to play until they drag him out and get every dime that's coming to him... and here's the thing: he's still got a role in the league, as one hell of a back-up PG. In 10:30 of first half run, Nash was pretty much the whole damned game, putting up 7-4-7 with a block (!) and +7 rating. He led breaks, got Nick Young off to the hot start that is essential if you are going to play Young for anything but comedy, threw those perfect bounce passes that led the shooter to his favorite spot on the floor with an extra half-step on the defender, and in short, reminded the audience just what a joy he's been to watch. For a really nice and long period of time, this 25-49 Lakers team looked as good or better than the 49-27 Blazers, and we all got to imagine what Nash might look like with managed minutes on a good team. You know, where he gets to end his Hall of Fame career with some semblance of dignity, rather than as one more reason that 2013-14 has been the saddest season in Laker Fan's history. (Oh, and by the way? Laker Fan can take another 50 years of this, and then another fifty more. Screw those guys.)

And then Nash was gone, back to the locker room, with a twisted left ankle to go with the perpetually bad back, and it nearly made me want to weep, honestly. Not that he hasn't had a wonderful career, not that he hasn't made all the money any man could ever want, and not that he really has anything to be sorry for. We've all enjoyed Nash for a lot longer than anyone had a right to expect, and for all I know, he might still have another flurry of smooth rage against the dying of the light in him.

But, well, there's just nothing good or right about having your body betray you, especially when you are the kind of player for whom the game is less for your absence. Young kept up his hot streak with Nash off the floor, but it turned into Hero Ball, a bunch of guys on a dead-end team trying for numbers rather than artistry, stand alone jump shots and drives to nowhere. By the end of the first half, LA had given up the lead and had an assist to turnover ratio of 19 to 6... or 12 to 5 for players other than Nash. (To be fair, Kendall Marshall came back in late in the second and restored something of a point guard presence to the game, but Marshall is a homeless man's Nash.)

Everyone gets older. Father Time is undefeated. And that's why we always appreciate it when guys like Nash give it up when they still have something left in the tank, because they hide us from that fact, that sadness.

Oh, and Nash came back in the second half, but wasn't the same, and wound up going to the locker room early in the second half, too. Portland won, 124 to 112, with Nash finishing with 10-4-10 in 22 minutes, for his first double-double in over a year. And, well, maybe his last.

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