OAKLAND – The Lakers received an early Christmas present in the form of a healthy point guard who can seemingly do everything.
Steve Nash can pass. He can shoot. Nash can handle the ball. No assembly required there as Nash returned for the first time in nearly two months after sitting for 24 games nursing a fractured left leg.
More importantly, Nash’s first game coincided with the Lakers’ 118-115 overtime victory Saturday over the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
Just as Nash has thrived on ensuring team play in a prolific 17-year career, his return featured the Lakers (13-14) winning in extra regulation for their fourth consecutive victory with an assorted cast of characters.
“You can’t build on anything without hard work or perseverance,” said Nash, who posted 12 points on five of eight shooting and nine assists in 42 minutes. “It allowed us to creep back in the end of the game. We’re still trying to figure ourselves out. We need games like this.”
Kobe Bryant made three baseline jumpers. Nash hit a turnaround floater with 16 seconds remaining. And Pau Gasol grabbed a key rebound after Golden State guard Stephen Curry missed a potential game-tying three-pointer on the last possession. Metta World Peace made a three pointer with 108-106 with 24 seconds that secured extra regulation after Warriors guard Jarrett Jack made a 19-foot jumper with 14 seconds remaining.
“We’re a completely different team with him out there,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nash. “He’s done that his whole career so it’s not really that much of a surprise.”
It seemed surprising the Lakers rallied, though.
Bryant’s 34 points on 16 of 41 shooting showed he’s hardly benefitted from sliding over to small forward and move more off the ball. Dwight Howard finished with only 11 points on four of eight shooting in only 28 minutes, partly a product of early foul trouble. The Lakers looked sloppy in three-point shooting (nine of 27 from the field), ball handling (20 turnovers) and defending (allowing Golden State to go on a 14-0 second-quarter run.
Then the Lakers opened the fourth quarter on a 14-2 run to reduce the Warriors’ lead to 90-88 with 6:58 remaining. Minutes later, Jodie Meeks’ three-pointer gave the Lakers a 98-97 lead with 3:40 remaining. Bryant’s missed fallaway jumper at the buzzer that forced overtime marked a stretch where the Lakers and Warriors traded seven lead changes. The Lakers also showed some punch off the bench from World Peace (20 points), Jordan Hill (14 points) and Meeks (12 points).
Meanwhile, Nash made dazzling plays. He threw nifty lobs to Bryant and Gasol. Nash flicked a behind-the-back pass that set up an open jumper for Hill. Nash also hit a 27-footer that gave the Lakers a 103-102 lead with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter.
Most importantly, Nash reported little pain afterwards.
“I thought it would be a lot worse after so many weeks out and so much inactivity,” Nash said. “It didn’t give me too much trouble. There’s some pain and soreness. But I’m getting used to that and that will be there for a while as it completely heals.”
The Lakers also haven’t completely healed their wounds, either. But on a night they already anticipated an early Christmas present in Nash’s return, the Lakers received an even more important one with a win.