Sunday, December 23, 2012
Nash leads Lakers' uphill battle
By Dave McMenamin
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Steve Nash sat on the bench and he wondered.
He’d been rehabbing his left leg for seven weeks after fracturing his fibula in just the second game of the Los Angeles Lakers' season. He had to watch from the sidelines as his team cycled through three head coaches and fell lower and lower in the standings.
Now here he was, back in his No. 10 jersey, sweat dripping from his freshly coifed hair as he looked at the scoreboard only to see his Lakers trailing the Golden State Warriors by 13 heading into the fourth quarter on Saturday.
He came back for this? Was it going to be just another road loss in a season that had already seen L.A. drop eight of its first 12 games away from Staples Center? Or did he and his teammates have something in them yet to be discovered?
“I wasn’t sure,” Nash said after the Lakers’ thrilling 118-115 overtime win over the Warriors. “Our team is still trying to figure ourselves out and we need games like this to hopefully build that reserve and that foundation. I wasn’t sure which way we were going to go tonight.”
The way they ended up going was the way many envisioned the Lakers setting out this season when Nash and Dwight Howard and Co. came together in purple and gold this summer.
There was Nash putting up 12 points, nine assists and two steals while playing 41 minutes on a sore and painful left leg, saving his best for last by tossing in the game-sealing fadeaway jumper with 14.9 seconds left in OT to put L.A. up by three.
There was Howard playing controlled as he lasted almost the entire fourth quarter and extra period while saddled with five fouls, yet still anchoring the defense, catching lobs on offense and even swishing two clutch fourth-quarter free throws.
There was Kobe Bryant shaking off a 10-for-29 start to the game to make six of his last 12 shots at the end and turn his performance from regrettable to unforgettable.
There was Pau Gasol not giving up on the offense that isn’t built for him and finding ways to make an impact with his passing.
There was Jordan Hill ignoring the hurt of two straight DNP-CDs to chip in 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench, serving as a spark plug to his stagnant team at the start of the fourth.
There was Metta World Peace embracing his bench role with 20 points, including a necessary 3 from the corner.
There was Jodie Meeks launching away when somebody needed to shoot or else let Bryant take all the shots to be had.
Each player could have wallowed in his lot and focused on the fouls or the misses or the minutes or whatever. Collectively, the team could have curled into a ball and taken its lumps with yet another loss on the road.
But with Nash in the fold, they chose to fight.
“It felt great having him out there,” said Gasol. “It makes me feel more sure about what we do out there when he has the ball, because I know something is going to come out of it.”
For Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni -- who finally got to reunite in-game with Nash for the first time in more than four years, when their Phoenix Suns lost in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs -- Nash’s presence was the chance to start anew.
“It changes everything,” D’Antoni said. “It changes all the perspective of playing.”
The win was the Lakers’ fourth in a row, but they’re still on the wrong side of .500 at 13-14. The perspective they need to keep in mind is that they’re not a championship team right now. They’re not even a playoff team. But they have the power to change that.
“We just said, we just got to go harder,” Bryant said. “When you’re met with a challenge, you just have to go harder. And that’s exactly what we did.”
“We just never stopped fighting,” he said.
They’ll need to keep that attitude for the next 55 games. The hole they’ve dug themselves is considerable, but with the mindset they showed late Saturday night when they could have packed it in, they could still find a way to be packing for road trips well into May and June.
“Earlier in the season, a game like this I think we would have lost,” Gasol said. “We haven’t been able to come back, especially on the road when we got down by, let’s say, a double-digit lead for the other team. I think tonight we showed that if we continue to work we can give ourselves a chance.”
“We need it,” Nash said. “We need to build every day. We need something to build on, and you can’t build on anything without hard work and perseverance.”
It makes you wonder if he was all they needed this whole time.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.