HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Hours after Weekend at Bernie’s and its star, interim Lakers coach Bernie Bickerstaff, set up for a limited showing in Lakerland, Kobe Bryant sat in front of a microphone, his arms folded. He spoke in a solemn voice as he reflected on the end of the 2011 playoffs, an embarrassing second-round thrashing by the Dallas Mavericks that sent him limping home without a sixth title and whisked a limping Phil Jackson into retirement clinging to his 11 rings.
“The one thing that’s always bothered me is that his last year I wasn’t able to give him my normal self because I was playing on one leg and it’s always eaten away at me,” Bryant lamented after Friday night’s victory over Golden State that came about 12 hours after the Lakers fired Mike Brown. “The last year of his career, I wasn’t able to give him everything I had. He’s too great of a coach to have had to go out that way.”
Maybe so. But it turns out P-Jax still isn’t walking through that door.
Mike D’Antoni is, and so is arguably a far better redemption story — the tortured tale of D’Antoni and Steve Nash and their improbable chance to chase down unfinished business in Tinseltown.
D’Antoni and Nash, after revolutionizing offensive basketball in seven seconds or less in Phoenix, are now reunited, as strange as it may be, in the gold and purple of the Lakers. D’Antoni, back after his flameout in post-Isiah New York. Nash, 38 and as strong-willed as ever. Together, they have a shot to make history and to shut up all the yammering cynics who claim D’Antoni’s style never could and never will win a championship in the NBA.
Critics crucify those Suns teams for being a sieve defensively, but the real truth is they weren’t all that bad. More than anything else, injuries and crummy luck prevented the pair from attaining the ultimate goal.
Shall we review:
In 2005, Joe Johnson fractured an orbital bone in the second round against the Mavericks. Phoenix won the series and Johnson returned during the West finals, but the Suns couldn’t handle San Antonio, which went on to win its second of three titles in the decade.
In 2006, the Suns advanced to the West finals without Amar’e Stoudemire (knee injury) and lost in six games to the Mavericks.
Still, the hardest one to reconcile is 2007, the year that looked to have title team written all over it, until …
Game 1 of the second round against the Spurs. Who can forget the bloody nose? After crashing into Tony Parker‘s head late in the fourth quarter, Nash’s gashed nose, no matter the amount of gauze applied, wouldn’t stop bleeding, and Nash, with 31 points and eight assists at the time, couldn’t get back in. Phoenix lost a heartbreaker.
And then there was Game 4 in San Antonio and the infamous Robert Horry hip-check. In the final minute, Horry’s body blow sent Nash, with 24 points and 15 assists, crashing into the scorer’s table followed by Nash’s teammates jumping off the bench in violation of NBA rules. The Suns won the game and evened the series, 2-2, but Stoudemire and Boris Diaw received by-the-book suspensions for Game 5, sidelining the Suns’ only power forwards.
To top it all in 2008, Tim Duncan miraculously tossed in his only 3-pointer of the season to force double overtime in Game 1 of the first-round series. A game the Suns had all but won, stolen on the road, was lost.
Series over. Era over.
“I hate to pin it on breaks, but we did have some bad breaks. Every year something happened,” Nash would later tell ESPN’s Bill Simmons on his B.S. Report. “You can’t look back on that series and go, ‘if the suspensions didn’t happen we were through,’ but we were also at an all-time high. Diaw was playing at an exceptional level, Amare was great. We had a nice team around the main guys.”
So now comes another nice team — and what should be a far better defensive one — for D’Antoni and Nash to chase their dream. Sure, Phil and Kobe would have made a nice little story, a partnership three times over to go after one more title for the history books.
But D’Antoni and Nash, this improbable reunion, will be the ultimate run at redemption.