Steve Nash played his worst game of the season and was still the hero of the Phoenix Suns' 99-90 victory over the tenacious Portland Trail Blazers last night.
Nash seemed out of synch for much of the first-round series against the Blazers, and game six was no exception. The previously mighty point guard committed seven turnovers in the first half at the Rose Garden and barely contributed anything offensively, until...
He swished a three-pointer with two minutes and change left in the game, followed by a thread-the-needle bounce pass to Amar'e Stoudemire under the goal for a rim-rattling dunk that left Portland reeling.
It was great to see, because Nash needs all the confidence he can muster for the Suns' second-round matchup with the hated San Antonio Spurs, which starts Monday night. The seventh-seeded Spurs upset the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks 97-87 last night to take that series 4-2. (Another great regular season ruined in the first round for obnoxious Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Too bad. Not really.)
To say that it's time for Phoenix to break the Curse of the Spurs. who traditionally play their best basketball in the playoffs, is a gross understatement.
Because it's gross what the Men in Black have done to the Suns over the years -- from Tony Parker's turning Nash's nose into bloody mush to retired Spur Robert Hory's body-slamming the two-time league MVP to the hardwood -- which cost the Suns the series and arguably the Western Conference championship and the title that year.
But back to last night's game. It was not all Suns all the time.
Portland battled back to tie things 76-76 with eight minutes left in the fourth, largely on the three-pointer heroics of backup guard Martell Webster, who hit three treys and two free throws in a hurry during the period to wind up his team's leading scorer with 19 points.
But two Suns tied for our Player of the Game: Jason Richardson and Grant Hill.
Richardson, who played spectacularly during this playoff run, put in shots from inside and especially out -- where he hit five threes -- for a game-high 28 points. Plus, his seven boards were only topped by the rebounding prowess of Hill, who pulled down a game-high 12.
Hill, one of the three best defensive players on the team, also blocked two shots -- one of them on an unbelievable leap (dude's 37!) above the backboard. The other two stellar defenders, Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson, had two and one. Stoudemire's two blocks and Richaqrdson's one rounded out the Suns' grand total of eight.
We mention these blocks because they are as beautiful to watch as slam-dunks -- and 'cause that many in a game prove that the Suns are bringing it defensively nowadays.
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Stoudemire had 22 points, though he only managed to grab three rebounds. Backup point guard Goran Dragic, who continues to prove that he's the team's floor leader of the not-too-distant future, had 10 points and three assists in just 18 minutes, during which time he put Nash's defensive skills in the dark.
Tip-off for the round-two opener against the Spurs is 7:30 p.m. Monday at US Airways Center (the Suns beat the Spurs 2-1 in the regular season and have home-court advantage). San Antonio's Parker, Manu Ginobli (who played much of the Dallas set with a broken nose and still had a lights-out series), Tim Duncan, and the Curse of the Spurs need no further introduction. To make things worse, the team's been getting great playoff minutes out of guard George Hill.
TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR 620 AM. For more information, got to www.suns.com.