San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash discusses his future after playing what feels like his final game with the Suns

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The Suns played the Spurs in the team’s season finale on Wednesday, but the outcome of the game meant less than nothing to either of the participants. With the game taking place in Phoenix, the focus was entirely on Steve Nash, who is an unrestricted free agent heading into next season, and might very well have played his last game as a member of the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix was eliminated from the playoff picture the night before, losing a hard-fought game in Utah where the team was ultimately overmatched. Their fate was sealed, as was that of the visiting Spurs, who had already clinched the one seed in the West.

(The key members of this San Antonio team had no interest in even seeing this game in person; after a full morning practice, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker all caught a plane home to get some rest before the postseason begins.)

What hasn’t yet been determined, and likely won’t be for quite some time, is the team that Nash will be playing for at the beginning of next season. While he’s been as open and honest about his decision-making process as possible, even Nash himself doesn’t know if he’ll be back in Phoenix next season.

The sense, though, is that he won’t be.

Suns fans showed their appreciation for Nash at the beginning of the evening, giving him a huge, much-louder-than-normal cheer during the introduction of starting lineups. But their spontaneous chants for him late in the game were even more meaningful.

The Phoenix faithful began a loud, passionate “We want Steve!” chant with just over five minutes remaining in the game, after Nash had started and played the first eight minutes of the contest, and then the first nine minutes of the third quarter. He appeared to be done for the evening, but as the fans rose to their feet and the chants got louder, Nash eventually subbed in briefly to take a well-deserved curtain call.

After eight years with the franchise, he deserved it. And he was clearly touched by the fans’ gesture, as he spoke thoughtfully about it afterward.

“It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support,” Nash said. “It’s very special. It’s not something I asked for or imagined, and to get that type of spontaneous reaction … It’s authentic, the relationship that I thought we had. It really feels special and the fans have been phenomenal and it really meant a lot to me to play in a city like this for as long as I have to feel important to the fans and the community, I just feel like a very lucky guy.”

Nash wasn’t feeling particularly sentimental heading into Wednesday night’s finale — partly because he didn’t have time to think about it, and partly because that’s just not who he is.

“I must admit, I’m not the most sentimental person in the world,” he said. “It’s something I shy away from more than try to soak it up and get emotional. To be honest I really didn’t get a chance to think about it. If this were to be my last game, it’ll be a night I remember and it’ll be an important night for me, but I didn’t get a lot of moments to put that in perspective because we were playing for our lives last night. And coming back in the middle of the night and getting the kids from school and stuff like that, it’s not like you have a lot of time to try and sit around and put your career in perspective.”

Nash has maintained that the idea of returning to Phoenix next season is more than just being polite; it’s a legitimate option. It’s tough to envision, though, given how much the team relied on him to do it all this season, and yet still fell short of making it to the playoffs.

At 38 years of age, it’s no longer reasonable to rely on Nash to be the sole provider of offense for this or any team; he’s going to need some help. I asked Suns head coach Alvin Gentry if it was too much to ask of Nash at this point in his career to carry such a large burden, and he seemed to think that it was.

“You’re right, I don’t think you can ask him to do that,” Gentry said. “I don’t think you can ask him to make all the plays down the stretch, I don’t think you can ask him to be the guy to facilitate all the plays, or make the shot or anything like that. Obviously, he needs help. You can’t do it alone in this league; no one’s ever been able to do it alone, not even Michael Jordan. You have to have other guys that you can continuously count on.”

The Suns, as currently constructed, don’t have anyone who you can continuously count on. The roster needs some serious upgrades if the team is going to compete in the playoffs; among the glaring needs are a reliable scorer who can create their own shots and average in the neighborhood of 20 points per game from either the wing or the low post, and a legitimate big man who can dominate inside — either offensively or defensively. Because at the moment, the Suns have no one who can do that on either end of the floor.

Personnel will certainly be a factor for Nash in determining whether or not to stay in Phoenix, but coaching definitely won’t be. Gentry is a players’ coach and knows how to deal with veterans, and Nash had nothing but positive things to say about the job he did with the talent he was handed this season.

“I think Alvin was unbelievable this year,” Nash said. “Michael Redd was a late signing, he hadn’t played for two years, if I’m not mistaken. So other than Michael Redd, (Grant Hill) and I are the only guys who have really started, and have been NBA starters before. And there were quite a few new guys this year, too. So for Alvin to put all those pieces together, for all our flaws and faults, to put us together and when we were 12-19 not let us quit — because really, we were 12-19 and we didn’t have a lot of answers at that point, either. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we’re going to get better at this that and the other,’ it was more like, ‘I’m not sure if we’re going to get better at any of this stuff.’ But he wouldn’t let us relent and he was phenomenal. I love playing for Alvin, I think he’s a great coach.”

That’s one thing the Suns have going for them, but there are too many factors going against them that lead you to believe that Nash has played his last game for the Phoenix franchise.

Nash himself is still non-committal, and truly seems open to returning to Phoenix if the pieces fall into place. But no relevant free agent is going to commit to the Suns without assurances that Nash will be back, and Nash won’t come back unless the talent level is upgraded significantly. So at this point, he can’t begin to predict his chances of re-signing in Phoenix.

“Honestly, I have no clue,” Nash said of his chances of staying with the Suns. “I couldn’t predict, I don’t know what the future holds at this point, and I’m actually OK with that. Now is the time to maybe get some distance from it, and try to find a clear perspective on where I am. Until I do that, I couldn’t put a number on it or take a guess on what the chances are that I’ll be back or not.”

Nash may not yet know what he wants. But the scene in Phoenix on Wednesday suggested that his time playing for the Suns has become a thing of the past.

Draymond Green tells Trail Blazers to call timeout during Warriors run (video)

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Klay Thompson capped a 9-0 game-tying fourth-quarter run with a 3-pointer, and Draymond Green had a message for the Trail Blazers:

Call timeout.

Terry Stotts did, but that didn’t stop the bleeding. Their swagger running high, the Warriors pulled away for a 110-99 win.

Three Things to Watch in Hawks/Cavaliers Game 2: Atlanta needs more Kyle Korver

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 2: Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks drives around LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Hawks 104-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers held serve in Game 1 thanks to some late game LeBron James heroics, but they blew a big lead and the Hawks didn’t make it easy. What did we see in Game 1 we should keep and eye on in Game 2? Here are three questions that will get answers this game:

1) Can Atlanta get Kyle Korver open for some shots? Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type: J.R. Smith did a fantastic defensive job shutting down Kyle Korver. He had plenty of help, for example, they switched pick-and-rolls which sometimes meant LeBron was on him. However, the idea didn’t change — the Cavaliers made shutting down Kover a top priority. One of the best three-point shooters in the game and a master at quietly finding space, Korver had just one attempt from beyond the arc in Game 1 (a miss from the top of the key). They need his spacing to make their offense flow.

For Atlanta, if Korver is getting that much attention other Hawks to hit their threes — Atlanta took 34 but hit just 11 (32.4 percent) in Game 1. The Hawks entire offense is to score at the rim and from three, and if one of those isn’t clicking they are in trouble. The Hawks moved the ball well and got some clean looks from three, but missed them. Those need to fall to win Game 2.

2) How quickly will Hawks go to Kent Bazemore on Kevin Love, meaning Paul Millsap/Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron James? Atlanta started Game 2 with Bazemore on LeBron, and the Cavaliers quickly tried to exploit that in the post — LeBron is too big and too strong and will get the shots he wants (the Hawks don’t have a great one-on-one option to go against LeBron). Mike Budenholzer made a smart switch putting Bazemore on Love, who prefers to live on the perimeter, and let Millsap handle LeBron. Millsap is a quality defender, and LeBron doesn’t take guys off the dribble like he used to, this matchup worked for a while, expect the Hawks to go to it quickly in Game 2.

The converse of that matchup question is can the Cavaliers keep Al Horford and Paul Millsap in check again? The All-Star front line of the Atlanta Hawks was 10-of-32 shooting and were not the forces the Hawks need on that end of the floor, the Hawks need better efficiency from their starting bigs.

3) Can the combo of Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague balance out Kyrie Irving? If there was an unexpected star of Game 1, it was Schroder, the German bench point guard of the Hawks who supplanted Jeff Teague for key minutes late in the game. Schroder — Boston fans’ favorite villain in the first round (he was booed every time he touched the ball after some run-ins with Isaiah Thomas) — had 27 points and six assists in Game 1. The problem for the Hawks is Schroder is just not that consistent, he hit 5-of-10 from three in Game 1 and it’s unlikely he’s going to replicate that effort in Game 2. Look for Budenholzer to play Teague and Schroder together for stretches in this team and see if the combo can unlock the Atlanta offense.

The Hawks need a lot from their guards because we know Irving will have a good game. Irving had 21 points and eight assists in Game 1, plus a key block on Schroder late, and it feels like he can do much better. The combination of Teague and Schroder need to keep him in check to keep the Hawks within striking distance.

Watch Dwyane Wade’s game sealing steal, lay-up in overtime

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Of course it was Dwyane Wade.

He can summon up the athletic, play-making younger version of himself for a game here or a stretch there, and he did that again in Game 1 against the Raptors Tuesday. He had 24 points on the night, and along with Goran Dragic helped lead the Heat to a road win to start the series.

That includes making the steal on DeMar DeRozan and getting the bucket that sealed the win. Wade was determined in this one.

Warriors’ defense, Klay Thompson take over fourth quarter, earn Game 2 win

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Only one team in this series can crank up their defense enough to  win them games.

The Warriors’ offense feeds off that stingy defense — with or without Stephen Curry in the lineup, again Tuesday it was without — and the combination can lead to big runs.

Such as a 34-12 fourth quarter. It was historic, as our own Dan Feldman pointed out on twitter.

Golden State trailed by 17 at one point but came on in the fourth with a defensive energy that held Damian Lillard to 0-of-3 shooting and his entire Portland team to 26.5 percent shooting. Those miss shots fueled transition buckets and opportunities — Klay Thompson had 10 of his 27 points on the night in the fourth — and the Warriors roared back for a 110-99 victory.

Golden State now leads the series 2-0 as it heads to Portland, with Game 3 not until Saturday. The biggest question is whether Curry will play in that game, or will the Warriors use their position of strength to get him more rest (as they did in the Houston series up 2-0)?

The best player on the floor in Game 2 was Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points (on 20 shots), 14 rebound and seven assists. But that’s not where the damage he does starts — it’s on defense. His ability to defend the five, then show out high on pick-and-rolls to cut off Lillard or C.J. McCollum and take away their shots from three. With Curry out, Green also spends a lot of time as the guy initiating the Warriors offense. He crashes the boards. He protects the paint, including a key block late on Mason Plumlee. Green did it all.

Portland raced out to a lead using their vintage style — their defense wasn’t that good, but it was good enough (especially with a cold Thompson who kept missing open looks), and their offense was hitting everything. With the Warriors missing shots it was Portland using the opportunity to run — and it was the Warriors defenders doing a poor job of recognizing the shooters and closing them out. So the opposite of Game 1.

Portland was also getting buckets from Al-Farouq Aminu — 10 first quarter points — and that’s always a good sign because he’s the guy (well, him and Maurice Harkless) that the Warriors will live with shooting.

Still, you knew the run was coming. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run to make it close as the second half started to wind down. But then Portland responded with some real poise and an 8-0 run of their own. Portland was getting their buckets and had a 59-51 run at the half. They continued to hold that lead through the third quarter thanks to a red-hot Damian Lillard, who had 16 points in the quarter.

But again, you knew the run was coming — and this time it was fueled by the Warriors defense. Festus Ezeli was a big part of that, his defensive presence in the paint helped turn things around, he was setting big screens to free up Thompson and others, plus he had eight points of his own in the quarter.

When the game got tight Portland missed seven in a row down the stretch, and that sealed the Blazers fate. Meanwhile, the Warriors kept hitting shots, and the Blazers have no great options to change up the defense and alter that dynamic. Even without Curry, the versatility of the Warriors makes them tough to slow, let alone stop. 

Going home, maybe the Trial Blazers can hit some difficult shots and hold off a Warriors charge in the fourth quarter.

Or, maybe Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors just get better.