Speculation was all over the map on the crowd's collective reaction to the return of Steve to the place he made his home for 10 years of his playing life.
On one hand, these Suns fans are season ticket holders who are sick of hearing fellow "fans" cheer for Laker players every time they visit US Airways Center. They are tired of season-ticket brethren posting and selling their prime game tickets to denizens of the enemy. I personally dislike attending Suns/Lakers games in Phoenix as a fan because of the sea of yellow and incessant trash talking carried on by their groupies.
So you can understand the primal need to boo anyone in a Laker uniform. Nash himself said at the beginning of free agency that he couldn't ever see himself as a Laker but "poof" there he was.
On the other hand, Steve Nash's best years were in Phoenix and we all loved him. He made the Suns the best show on hardwood for more than four years, turning this middling market into must-see national TV while the Suns made ill-fated run after ill-fated run at the Finals.
We knew there would be some boos. And we knew there would be some cheers. The question was which would drown out the other.
We got our answer when Nash was introduced last in the Lakers' starting lineup. What started with a mix of cheers and boos was quickly drowned in a standing ovation and prolonged raucous hooting and hollering.
"It was a great reception, obviously this is a very special place for me," Nash said later. "To be in front of these incredible fans -- I'm very grateful for the reception but also for my time here, which was the best years of my life."
Nash seemed to take this visit personally. He showed up late last night with his teammates and spent the day with his kids, who still reside in Phoenix. Before the game, he talked to the media for a few minutes about how the game was special, the arena was special and the fans were special.
During the game, it appeared that Nash wanted to be anywhere but on the hated Lakers. He was slow, tentative and quick to defer to Kobe Bryant, who was all too willing to dominate the ball. In this latest incarnation of Laker offense, Nash has been relegated to spot-up shooter.
On the opening possession, Bryant ran the offense, drew the defense and got Nash a wide-open three - which Nash clanked.
About midway through the first quarter, with the home team nursing a small lead, the Suns ran a video tribute to Nash on the big screens. Again, it started with a smattering of boos with the cheers, but as highlight after highlight ran by of Nash's layups, threes, passes and plethora of haircuts, the applause grew to a crescendo not heard in US Airways Center in a long, long time. The cheering was so loud by the end of the timeout that Nash felt compelled to wave and clap his hands as he retook the court.
"Very flattering and very sweet of the organization," he said. "It was very kind of them."
Word from the Suns is that the tribute was meant strictly for in-game promotion and was not intended to be made available to fans, though I suspect something will make the internets if it hasn't already.
Throughout the game, Nash was slow on defense and offense - on rare times he had the ball - and finished the first half with 0 assists. For the game, he had a measly 11 points and 2 assists while Kobe continued to run the offense.
After the game, Nash acknowledged his small role on the Lakers coupled with a "stagnant" fourth quarter offense and noted that, "I think I can help."
Well duh. The two-time MVP, leader of (I think) 7 straight #1 finishes in offensive efficiency just might help the Lakers score more than 86 points if given the chance.
"We have been playing well lately," Kobe said after the game, despite his team's record (20-26) and inability to close out the Suns. "I'm not concerned."
Well, part of the problem with the Los Angeles Lakers (20-26) may be that they are not on the same page internally, so therefore are not producing on game day.
After a tough loss to a struggling Phoenix Suns (16-30) team that has let their head coach go, rebuilt the coaching staff, and moved in a different direction with their players roles, the team has to be searching.
Part of the problem is the perception of the offense.
When asked about the offense Steve Nash labeled it "stagnant" and elaborated on his role with the team.
"I think I can help. I definitely think I can score and setup my teammates especially in the fourth quarter I can take some pressure off of Kobe (Bryant). Those are things we still have to work out and find that balance."
Basically what the two-time MVP, six time assist leader, and arguably the best all-around shooter in NBA history is saying is that he can do something more on the court than sitting on the perimeter waiting for an open shot. Steve Nash has been reduced to this teams Steve Kerr, or Steve Blake.
On the flip side of that there is Kobe Bryant who feels this team is utilizing Nash to his full potential on offense.
"We get it to him and he penetrates and makes plays for others. He shoots when he has opportunities -- I think he's doing well."
Right now Nash is averaging his lowest point total in 13 years (11.5), lowest assist total in nine years, and has the third lowest usage rate in his 16 year career.
Is that using Steve Nash to his potential on offense?
Other Lakers News Bullets:
*Dwight Howard re-injured his right shoulder tonight in the third quarter. He described the injury as "really sore and besides the first one, the most painful." when he injured the shoulder.
The treatment for this?
"Rest. Try not to get into positions where I can hurt it, but that is hard when I am playing."
Will you need to sit out?
"I don't want to, but we'll see."
Will you shut it down?
"I never said anything about shutting it down."
Howard needs rest and time to heal his shoulder, but is not thinking about taking anytime off, or surgery, or shutting it down in general. The injury is fresh, but a lot of contradictions here from Howard.
It was an emotional game to say the very least for the Phoenix Suns as they hosted not only a divisional rival, but three former members of a team with fonder memories than the current present.
That emotion was harnessed early the Suns came out with purpose forcing turnovers and trying to spoil Steve Nash's return to U.S. Airways Center.
In the end the Suns (16-30) topped the Lakers (20-26) with the final of 92-86. Wins against the Lakers are more important than ten losses for the Suns as they get ready for the lottery.
All The Ammenities For Nash
Just before tip-off the Los Angeles Lakers set Nash up as the final announced starter that lead to a ruckus standing ovation for the former Sun. He was welcomed by his former fans as the legend he became here. From there the crowd booed here and there, but overall they were happy to see Nash again -- and were a partisan Lakers crowd.
It felt like a road game.
Midway through the third quarter the Suns put together a phenomenal "Coming Home" video package for Nash that highlighted his career from being drafted a Sun and tracking his great career here. The Suns and Nash handled his return here with class.
Third Quarter Collapse
At the half the Suns were tied with the Lakers at 41, but then gave back 10 points in the third to dig themselves another hole to climb out of. The Lakers hit four three-point shots and gave up only one turnover in the third leading to the 32 point outburst.
The Lakers scored 32 points in the third and the Suns managed just 37 in the second and third combined.
The defense wasn't the only problem for the Suns in that quarter as they shot 9-21 (1-5 from three) overall missing opportunities to score with the Lakers. They carried that deficit into the fourth quarter where they could not get the offense going, again, losing, again.
The Up-And-Down Beasley Effect
Early on Beasley was on fire from the field and causing turnovers, but they regressed back into the typical bad misses and turnovers that he has grown accustom to doing.
A positive sign came out of this as he seemed to weather a few in game storms to finish with 27 points 5 rebounds and 5 steals. Easily his best game of the season. Whether it is the confidence, the coaching, the comfort level, or the fit, Beasley has really played at a high level under new coach Lindsey Hunter.
However his clutch play down the stretch with tough buckets were the reason the Suns not only were in the game, but came out on top.
The night began as a tribute to Nash and the hope that the Lakers did not run them over. It quickly turned into a ball game as Goran Dragic (11 points 8 assists) strapped the team on his back late making plays for himself, Jared Dudley (9 points), and others to fight all the way back to a tie with 3:37 to go in the game.