Never underestimate the heart of a champion. We forget who said that, but it was Steve Nash who willed an overpowered Phoenix Suns team to a 99-98 victory Tuesday night over the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
Yeah, you heard that right, the now 1-14 Okie Thunder bitch-slapped the star-laden Suns for all but the last five minutes of the game before Little Stevie became wondrous.
We had all but given up on the Suns. They bobbled balls, missed easy shots, were hapless on the offensive boards, seemed like they wanted to be anywhere else but playing professional basketball in the dust bowl.
Meantime, the lowly Thunder did everything right. University of Texas phenom Kevin Durant, in his second year with the team (formerly the Seattle Sonics, before moving southeast this season), was flawless with 29 points. Oklahoma City killed the Suns with 15 offensive rebounds.
It was embarrassing, another awkward display of the former fast-paced Suns failing to adapt to new Coach Terry Porter's system, featuring Shaquille O'Neal. But despite Shaq's watching the game in a designer suit from the bench, the Suns' offense (defense, too, for that matter) was a clusterfuck.
We've been blaming the mass confusion on the team's attempt to convert it's run-and-gun style of the seasons under Mike D'Antoni to a slower half-court model. But even without Shaq in the low post, the offense sputtered.
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Let's face it, the 10-5 Suns aren't a powerhouse with Shaq, but they ain't what they used to be without him. They're stuck in the middle with Porter. It looked like things Tuesday night were going to turn out the same way they did the last time Porter rested Shaq for a game on Novemer 7: the Suns were dominated by the Chicago Bulls 100 to 83.
But the Thunder couldn't pull it off like the Bulls did, courtesy of Nash. With under two minutes left in the game, the mophead morphed into a superhero.
First he drove in for a layup; then he hit two three-pointers in the next two possessions, then he rocketed a pass to a wide-open Matt Barnes for another three. That put the Suns up by a point. Then, he put on a ball-handling display to keep the Thunder from fouling him as time ran out.
It was spectacular finish to a disgraceful game for the Suns, and it showed that at least one member of the team has the will to make this a successful season -- if not a championship one. -- Rick Barrs