Nash Keeps Eye on the Prize, Sweeping Spurs Despite Injury
Three years ago, the Spurs bloodied the nose of the Canadian in the playoffs and Nash's Suns suffered yet another frustrating loss to their rivals. Then Sunday night, just when things were going smoothly, boom, Nash gets hit again.
On a drive to the hoop midway through the third quarter, San Antonio forward Tim Duncan's left elbow banged into Nash's right eye. Nash again was bloodied on the floor.
"It just seems like everything, something always happens,'' Nash, whose Suns had dropped four straight series to San Antonio since 2003, with Nash being around for three. "We'd gone 3 ½ games clear sailing. It just seems like something always happens.''
The Phoenix star departed with 5:47 left in the third quarter with his team up 64-57. By the time he had returned from the locker room with six stitches covered by a bandage, the Spurs had briefly taken the lead and cut the deficit to 72-71 entering the fourth quarter.
Nash was back on the court to start the fourth, but the Suns were being led by a point guard who could see out of just one eye. To borrow from Ricky Ricardo, "Eye, yi, yi, yi.''
But Nash ended up having the eye of the tiger. All he did was score 10 of his 20 points and hand out five of his nine assists in the fourth as the Suns won 107-101 at the AT&T Center to sweep the best-of-seven West semifinal, 4-0.
Since Nash played with one eye, isn't that like 20 points in the fourth? If so, his effort was similar to the 23 points guard Goran Dragic put up in the fourth quarter of Friday's Game 3 win.
"I can't really see out of it,'' Nash, who had his nose sliced open in 2007 against the Spurs when he banged into Tony Parker, said during his post-game press conference. "It really doesn't want to open. I just feel fortunate that I got a chance to get back out there. I don't know how it didn't keep me on the sidelines. I was pretty worried about it. ... When they finished stitching me up and it was closed, I couldn't see out of it.''
Nash, 36, is getting better with age. Adding to the legend, Nash, whose bandage couldn't hide all his swelling, is now getting better with less vision.
"He looked like Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini,'' said forward Grant Hill, whose Suns advance to the West final, where they likely will face the Lakers, who lead Utah 3-0 on the other side of the bracket. "It forced him to focus because he was shooting out of one eye.''
Annie Oakley couldn't have shot much better considering the circumstances. Nash was 4 of 8 in the fourth quarter, including drilling his only three-point attempt.
"It was like, 'Cut the eye,' said Suns forward Jared Dudley, referring to a fight cut man. "It was somebody that wouldn't be denied.''
Everybody was cracking jokes about Nash's plight, including teammate Leandro Barbosa calling him "one-eyed guy.'' It had been a long time since the Suns had much to laugh about in a playoff series against the Spurs.
Phoenix had lost series in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008 to San Antonio, with the middle two being the cruelest. The Suns had homecourt advantage each time and perhaps were favorites to win the NBA title.
But 2005 featured Suns guard Joe Johnson suffering an untimely playoff eye injury and 2007 saw the infamous one-game suspensions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench area after Nash (who else?) had been knocked to the floor by Robert Horry. The Spurs ended up celebrating the championship both of those seasons.
"It's beautiful. It feels great to be able to get past the Spurs in this fashion,'' said Stoudemire, who had a game-high 29 points Sunday and is the only Phoenix to player to have been part of the last four playoff losses to the Spurs. "Ever since my rookie year (2002-03), I've been leaving this stadium with a bitter taste in my mouth in the postseason. Every time I left, I'd always say... 'One day I'll get them back.' A few times I almost had tears in my eyes leaving this arena in the postseason.''
If Nash had tears in his eye Sunday, it was for an entirely different reason. Nash also was overjoyed to finally break through against San Antonio.
"I just wanted to win the game,'' said Nash, confident his eye should be fine by the start of the West final, which will begin next weekend at the earliest. "I just didn't want to be out there faking it. We had such a great opportunity. Obviously, I don't want to glorify it and make it fairy tales. But it had been a long time that I've been able to beat this team. I had a great shot at it, and I was just trying to close it out, and do everything that I could.''
It's certainly OK if Nash's performance does get glorified. Perhaps the only better element would have been had the game been Saturday, the 40th anniversary of New York center Willis Reed's dramatic injury-defying walk through the tunnel to play with a serious knee injury in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Nash's biggest play was a three-pointer that gave the Suns the lead for good at 80-77 with 9:07 left in the game. Nash admitted it was "kind of a questionable shot'' on a fast break, but he wanted to somehow spark the Suns. He sure did.
The Spurs did make a dramatic comeback from a 10-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining to get within 103-101 with 26.5 seconds left when guard George Hill was fouled on a successful three-pointer and converted the free throw. But the Suns were able to hold on, and the Spurs were gracious in defeat.
Players from the teams congratulated each other after the final buzzer. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave Nash a big hug.
"We've given him more stitches than that and he's come back,'' Popovich cracked after the game. "That's why this was real sweet (for Nash). He's been waiting to get this done. I couldn't be happier for a class, class, class guy. I hate him, but he's classy.''
The Spurs have given Nash enough backchecks over the years, it would figure Popovich had some backhand in his compliment.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@christomasson or on Twitter @christomasson