PHOENIX – Having completed his media obligations outside the Suns’ practice court Monday, Steve Nash took a couple of steps and the horde of reporters and cameramen parted like the Red Sea. When this guy goes into a crowd, blood can never be far behind.
Sporting a fractured nose that he noted is “nicely curved,” Nash was on his way to have what the team described as a “minor procedure” to put it back into place. Easy for them to say. Nash is accustomed to all kinds of procedures, and has even been known to perform impromptu surgery on himself – as he did Sunday night after a collision with the Lakers’ Derek Fisher knocked his nose out of kilter.
Thankfully for all involved, there was no blood this time.
“I think he just needs to put on, not just the mask that Rip Hamilton wears, but like a whole helmet or something like that over his whole face,” teammate Jason Richardson said after practice. “You watch the play over and over again and you’re like, ‘What happened?’ And then you see that his nose is on one side of his face. And he’s there adjusting his own nose, and I’m like, ‘Ah, man, come on.’ But that’s Steve Nash, man. He’s used to stuff like that. He gets hit in the face all the time.”
Death, taxes, and a bloody and/or battered Nash in the playoffs. These are the things we can count on every spring.
There was the infamous bloody beak that caused him to miss the final crucial seconds of a loss to the Spurs in Game 1 of their 2007 playoff series … the hip check into the scorer’s table from Robert Horry that got Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw suspended for leaving the bench later in the same series … Tim Duncan’s elbow turning his eye into a swollen, bloody mess in Phoenix’s second-round sweep of the Spurs this year … and now this.
“I’m lucky,” Nash said. “I’ve had a couple bumps or bruises that haven’t affected my play. Those don’t bother you. It’s the ones that limit you that you hope you don't have to face.”
Luck? What kind?
“I think it’s just bad luck,” Richardson said. “Bad luck and bad timing.”
Nash, who quietly helped the Suns climb back into the Western Conference finals with a 118-109 victory Sunday night that cut the Lakers’ advantage to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, will not wear any sort of protective gear in Game 4 Tuesday night in Phoenix. The Spurs’ Manu Ginobili tried a plastic mask after breaking his nose this postseason, then switched to good old-fashioned tape. He was never the same after the injury.
“This guy’s gone through a lot of stuff the last two or three years in the playoffs,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Nash. “I don't think it’s going to bother him. “On second thought, Ginobili, it really curtailed his game. I thought his game really tailed off after the broken nose, so it’s probably an individual thing.”
Nash presumably has been hit in the head enough to understand how to work around it. As a Canadian, he perfectly embodies the kind of toughness that his homeland’s national sport requires.
“That’s what the hockey guys do, man,” Richardson said. “Get your teeth knocked out, get your nose broke, get five or six stitches on your eyeball and you still play. He’s a tough guy and he’s going to play through stuff like that. I know in the back of his mind he’s like, ‘Why are people getting in my face?’ But he’s fine.”
Through the first three games of the conference finals, Nash has been even more of a facilitator than usual. He’s attempted only 28 field goals in 102 minutes on the floor, shooting 50 percent – but only 1-for-6 from 3-point range after making 124 treys in the regular season.
“Sure, I’d love to get 15 or 20 shots up, but my job in this offense is to read the defense,” Nash said. “That’s really our offense – pick and roll and I read the defense and try to make the defense pay for how they decide to play us. At different times in this series, a lot of people have benefited. I have a lot of faith in my teammates, and that’s the way we play.
“We don’t really play a game where we say, ‘Steve’s not getting enough shots, let’s go to offense B,’” Nash said. “That’s just not the way we play.”
Clearly, Nash only knows one way to play: hard-nosed. Even if that nose doesn’t always stay in the same place.