Steve Nash took one hard dribble to his left, stopped on a dime, put the ball behind his back and lost his defender in the process for an easy lay-up.
That hoop was part of his game-high 19 points that helped lead the Lakers to a 112-98 victory at Philly on his 40th birthday. It was Nash’s second contest back after missing nearly three months because of nerve root irritation.
He became the first player age 40 or older to be a game’s leading scorer since Michael Jordan led all scorers with 25 points in Washington’s win at Miami on Apr. 11, 2003.
“It feels amazing,” Nash said postgame. “It’s been a tough run for me in L.A. I’ve just never been healthy and I’ve put so much time in trying to repay the Lakers for bringing me in and the fans for being patient. Just to be able to move freely the last two games (at Minnesota, at Philly) has been a lot of fun for me and made it all worth it.”
Since Nash was acquired in the summer of 2012, he’s suited up a total of 58 games for the purple and gold. He missed a combined 32 regular-season contests last season, all stemming from a lower leg fracture suffered in the second game of the year at Portland.
Nash played just six games this year before being sidelined for another 42. All the while, he worked and rehabbed constantly, whether on his own, with Lakers training staff members or alongside his personal trainer/physical therapist in Vancouver.
For a shot at playing the game again before his career winds down.
“That’s what I kept saying to people through all this,” he explained. “A lot of people said: ‘Why don’t you just retire?’ For me just to feel it again, to feel in control out there, to be a part of a team, to make a play for your teammates and to win a game on the road, those are all the things I wanted to feel again before it’s all over.”
He looked to be the Nash of old, the player selected to eight All-Star games and the player once voted a two-time MVP. He whipped a behind-the-back bounce pass to Wesley Johnson in the corner for a three-pointer, he weaved around a screen, found a spot at the elbow and – fading away – released a high-arching shot that found the bottom of the net. Even though his body wouldn’t sometimes cooperate, the dribbling, passing and shooting never betrayed him.
“I tried to do as much as I could to work around my injury and keep my skills as sharp as possible and stay in the best condition I could be knowing I couldn’t do everything,” Nash said. “I worked really, really hard so when I did get the opportunity to be healthy, I could adapt to the game as quickly as possible. All that work I put in seems to have paid off.”
Nash understands it’s been just two games, and that his injury is a tricky issue to deal with. But thus far, he’s pleased with how his body has responded and what he’s been able to do on the court.
“Nothing is guaranteed considering the state of health I’ve had,” he said. “But to be on top of it right now, to be playing, to be contributing, it feels great.”