Steve Nash's haircut has engendered a lot of nicknames. Gatsby. Jimmy Neutron. Skrillex. Well, here's another one for you: Peter Pan. Because he just guided us all on a magical journey to a place where the impossible happens all the time.
Twelve hours after the fact, last night's contest against the Golden State Warriors still doesn't make sense in any way. For nearly two months, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone about shattering our hopes and dreams with one disappointing performance after another, and the one overriding theme has been that the Lakers need their stars to be in top form just to have a chance of beating anybody. Steve Nash was billed as the guy who could come in and fix everything. With Nash, the Lakers offense would run more smoothly, and that success would cascade throughout the roster and into the defense.
Well, in the first game of his return, Steve Nash didn't fix anything. He just made it all irrelevant. Pau Gasol fumbling the ball weakly whenever he attacked the basket? It's cool. Dwight Howard getting whistled for fouls at a Travis Knight-ian rate, playing less than 30 minutes (in an OT contest) and picking up just six boards? No big deal. Kobe Bryant asserting his authority in the worst possible way? Doesn't matter. We can still win, on the road, against one of the hottest and most surprising teams in the league.
These weren't just off games for Pau, Dwight and Kobe. These were among the worst performances they've provided all season. Pau Gasol has had some real stinkers this season, but prior to last night's 5 TOs, he's never had more than three in a game, and his failure to get above 10 points was only the fifth time that's happened all season. His six assists and ten boards were positives, but Pau's night was definitely a struggle. Dwight Howard played just 29 minutes (in an OT game no less), his lowest total of the season in a non-blowout game (he ironically played less minutes in the Lakers' other victory against the Warriors), and he's only had a points/rebounds total lower than tonight twice in meaningful contests.
And then there's Kobe. Thanks to the exciting finish, and the victory, Kobe Bryant will be spared somewhat for one of the more atrocious games, both in terms of performance and mentality, that Kobe has ever played. Kobe's night wasn't just bad, or poor. It was historically so. Since 1985, there have been 21 games prior to last night in which a player has attempted over 40 shots (Kobe has eight of those 21 games. or nine out of 22 now, by the way). In those 21 games, only once has the player shot worse than the 39% from the floor Kobe managed last night (that player was also Kobe, against Boston in 2002). Kobe's 34 points are the least scored in an over 40 FGA game, and only Dominique Wilkins' 38 on 42 shots in 1988 prevented Kobe from having the only sub 40 point game under these circumstances. Nobody has ever taken so many shots without making a single free throw (which, to be fair, is as much the refs faults as it is Kobe's). No matter how you slice it, his shooting performance made the wrong kind of history last night. And the message behind it was even worse. I love Kobe, but playing in that way, shooting that many shots, on the night Steve Nash (who is the personification of the exact opposite style of play) returns to your team, isn't just a poor performance. It's a monumentally stupid, egotistical one. If Kobe Bryant is this ship's captain, last night would have been proper justification to mutiny.
As he always seems to do, Kobe did some things that will grant him partial forgiveness. He pulled down 10 rebounds. He somehow found the time between all those shots to dole out five assists. Down the stretch, he hit as many shots as he missed (6-12 in the 4th quarter and OT). And most importantly, his team didn't suffer the consequences for his intransigence. About mid way through the 4th quarter, I felt sure that we were headed towards a Kobe Bryant game winner, because he always seems to be able to complicate the narrative. Instead, he did me one better. After trying (and obviously failing) to win the game his way in regulation, Kobe surrendered control to Steve Nash on the final meaningful offensive possession of OT, and never touched the ball. In a game in which Kobe Bryant was so clearly trying to do it himself, with no apparent reason for doing so, a game in which Kobe displayed unprecedented levels of selfishness and ego, the game ended without him demanding, or even touching, the ball, allowing his other star teammates to get the job done as he sat as a quiet decoy on the corner. Forget a game winner ... that's one complicated narrative.
What isn't complicated is how the Lakers actually managed to win. The bench, led by Metta World Peace playing one of the best games I've ever seen him play offensively, was spectacular. Seven Lakers players scored in double figures last night, and the 2nd, 3rd and (tied for) 4th highest totals were Metta, Jordan HIll and Jodie Meeks. Metta wasn't just making shots, he was a genuine playmaker who made all the right decisions and all the right plays. Jordan Hill continues to take a wrecking ball to the notion that he can't be effective under Mike D'Antoni, and the added development of his having confidence in (and success with) an outside jumper would be monumental in allowing him to stick around. Jodie Meeks may not have been as explosive as we've seen him in the past, but the dude continues to be the hardest worker on this Lakers roster, and 12 points and 7 boards is hardly a light outing off the bench for a guard.
And Steve Nash. His numbers didn't light up the marquee. 12 points and 9 assists are below his career average. The three turnovers, all from clear miscommunication about where he expected teammates to be in certain scenarios, will be something he'll want to clean up. I'm sure Steve Nash will play better games as he continues to recover, and as he continues to develop a rapport with his teammates. But more importantly, his very presence brought out a quality that has been lacking in the Lakers all season long: Belief.
No one, anywhere, ever, has accomplished anything important without first believing that they could. More than the attitude, more than the performance, the lack of belief has been the Lakers' single greatest failing this season. When things have gone wrong, heads have fallen. When shots are missed, shoulders slump. When a layup is given up, fingers are pointed and shoulders are raised in frustration. Somewhere in between Mike Brown's firing and a point guard rotation consisting of Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, the Lakers lost belief in their ability to do anything at all.
Belief is powerful stuff. It can make you think you can still win a game when your best player is shooting himself, and everybody else on his team, in the foot. It can make you think you can win when your defensive anchor is weighing you down instead of keeping you secure. It can make you think you can beat one of the league's better teams despite facing a double digit 4th quarter deficit on the road in one of the toughest arenas in the league. With a healthy dose of belief, problems aren't problems. They are adventures. Steve Nash didn't fix everything. He hardly fixed anything. But, if he can stay healthy, I believe he can be the guide that can take the Lakers where they want to go. He turns the team's problems into opportunities for solutions.
The NBA, like any other sports league, is already Neverland, a land where the luckiest of full grown men can go to never grow up, to spend their working life playing a child's game. All you need is a guide with a goofy hair cut to lead the way. I believe the Lakers can fly. I believe the Lakers can win a championship. I believe it because believing it is the first step to making it happen.
Now hit me with that fairy dust, Steve, and let my imagination run wild.