Los Angeles — After missing the last five weeks due to persistent nerve irritation in his left leg and back, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash made his return to the court on Friday against the Washington Wizards.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Nash said, “I have worked very hard. I haven’t been able to play up to now or play at all, but I have tried to really work hard by getting in a couple of workouts per day. I was trying to stay as close to it as possible just in case that opportunity came along.”
Well Nash’s opportunity came along on Friday as he had quite an impressive performance in limited minutes on the floor as he dished out 11 assists to go along with five points and four rebounds in 17 minutes played in the loss to the Wizards.
The 18-year veteran checked into the game for the first time at the 3:26 mark to loud ovation from the crowd and once he stepped on the floor it didn’t take him long to have an impact on the game as he recorded an assist in team’s first possession with him on a right-handed hook shot made by Jordan Hill. The 40-year-old followed it up the next two possessions by throwing two behind the back passes to wide open teammates but was not rewarded with a made basket on either pass.
His next assist would not come much longer after that as less than a minute later it occurred on a 25-foot 3-pointer by Nick Young. Nash continued to looked his old self on the floor in the second quarter as he tallied assists on the first three made field goals by the Lakers and also made his patent fadeaway jumper before checking out of the game after seven minutes played in the first half.
In the second half after he checked in with 3:44 left in third quarter, his impact on the team’s offense was immediate as he recorded an assist on a free-throw line jumper by Robert Sacre once again on the team’s first possession with him on the court. The overall flow of the offense was much improved with 18-year veteran on the court as he helped the Lakers close the deficit to seven points at the end of the third quarter as he recorded assists on five of their last eight made field goals for the quarter.
However, Los Angeles fell behind by as much as 21 points with Nash to start the fourth quarter and he checked out of the game and leave to the locker room. Nash would come out of the locker room and come back into the game couple of minutes later. His impact was immediate once again as he nailed a three-pointer on his first possession on the floor as part of a quick 5-0 run by the Lakers, but the lead proved too much for Los Angeles to overcome.
The 18-year veteran also experience a minor setback after checking back into the contest later in the fourth quarter, which forced him to miss the last two minutes of the game. But after the game, Nash stated that he felt great physically.
“I feel pretty good,” Nash said. “[There was] a little setback right at the end, that’s why I came out with a couple minutes left, but it was more precautionary. Sometimes I let my ambition get the better of me and I thought if I want to play the rest of the year I better just be careful.
“I haven’t been up-and-do0wn in five weeks, so I had to feel a little bit lucky for what I did get out there and to get through it I think, more or less, unscathed.”
Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni was not surprised by the play of his long-time point guard as nothing that Nash does surprises him at this point in his career.
“No not with him,” D’Antoni said. “He loves to play and he’s a competitor obviously. He keeps himself ready whenever a game breaks out so he’s ready to go. It’s just another thing that he does.”
For Pau Gasol, who has been his teammate since he joined the team two seasons ago, it was good feeling to see Nash not only out on the floor but also play well in his limited minutes.
“He works hard everyday and it has been a rough couple of years as far as injuries,”Gasol said. “So just to see him out there and have a positive impact on the game I am happy for him.”
With Nash returning to the court on Friday despite D’Antoni ruling him out for the season last week, it has been a testament to his hard work in his rehab to getting his body right to play in a game. His dedication and commitment to the game in the face of his declining health is matched by few, and is noticed by not only his teammates but other players across the league.
“No matter how old Steve Nash is, whenever he runs that pick-and-roll, he is efficient and one of the best at passing and getting his shot,” Wizards point guard John Wall said after Friday’s game. “He is still one of the greatest of all time, and you have to respect him. I think a lot of people are writing him off, but when he is healthy, you know what he is capable of doing.”
It is Nash’s will that keeps him going and helps him fight through the nagging injuries. But it has also been the support of Lakers’ fans despite his health problems over the past two seasons that has helped him stay motivated to continue to play the game that he loves.
“I try to tell people as disappointing as my time in Los Angeles has been from my personal standpoint it has been unbelievable cool in the way people have responded to me,” Nash said. “I know the negative voices are always the loudest, but out in the public and streets it’s unbelievable the support I get.
“For the fans give me that type of reception it means a lot to me. Regardless of the reception just being able to run up and down the court with these guys in front of these fans is all priceless for me. Then get a ovation like that, it’s way more than I can ask for considering everything that has gone on in the last 18 months. So my heart goes out to all those souls that cheered me on today.”
So with 14 more games left this season, it will be important for Nash manage his health and listen to his body more than ever before in his illustrious 18-year NBA career.
Watch here as Steve Nash receives a loud ovation from the crowd when he checks into the game for the first time on Friday: