Posted May 28 2010 10:14AM
LOS ANGELES -- Steve Nash delivered his first assist of Game 6 in the locker room moments after Game 5. Addressing a team that just had its heart ripped out by Ron Artest -- of all Lakers -- the Suns' fearless leader preached perspective.
Forget the hurt, Nash said. Push aside the pain. Focus on what's next.
The Suns didn't lose a spot in The Finals with Thursday night's buzzer-beating 103-101 loss to the defending champions, though few can blame them for flying back to the desert possibly thinking -- more likely cussing -- just that. Their emotional speedometer went from 100 mph into a brick wall in the span of 3.5 seconds, a violent crash that they must heal from before Saturday night.
The Suns repeated the "fuggetaboutit" mantra in the aftermath. A setback that's equal parts unbelievable and draining can't be allowed to fester if the unforeseen Phoenix season is to continue beyond the weekend.
"It happens," Amar'e Stoudemire said. "There've been games where we lost at the buzzer in the playoffs before. You have to swallow this one and get ready for the next."
That's one huge gulp.
The last game of the Western Conference finals at US Airways Center could also be the last of the season for the Suns. So the champs aren't expecting a stroll on the hardwood. Not after watching Phoenix recover from 18 points down and nearly forcing overtime on Jason Richardson's banked 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left.
"Not for that team," Kobe Bryant countered. "I think that team just bounces right back. Loosey goosey bunch."
Nash guaranteed the return to Staples for a Game 7 (it would be Monday) during his postgame media address. (Jared Dudley did the same on Twitter.) Asked about the emotional swing, Nash carefully weaved through his answer. He called it a "crazy game" with a "bit of everything" before pausing and exhaling. In that mid-answer break, his mind had to drift to what almost was.
The Suns were this close from owning their own closeout chance. This close to that kind of opportunity, especially after being blown out in the first two games in L.A., has to pour Tabasco in another fresh wound.
Broken bones don't hurt as much as a broken heart. The Suns' recent injured-riddled playoff history of gashed noses, fractured eye sockets and torn ACLs pales in comparison to watching an airball cleaned up by the league's most-celebrated airhead.
As if Suns coach Alvin Gentry needed another reason to upchuck.
"We're disappointed," said Gentry, the recipient of an IV at halftime to battle a bad case of fried artichokes. "We're not going to get discouraged, though. We're not a team to get discouraged. We get disappointed.
"And the first thing that Steve said when we went in the locker room was that just forget about this, there's time to concentrate on the next game. He's exactly right."
Nash isn't forgetful. But he's nothing if not resilient. He finished Game 5 with 29 points -- only Kobe's 30 were more -- and 11 assists, leading the near-fourth quarter rally.
Four trips to the West finals and the most playoff games in NBA history without experiencing The Finals may well be Nash's basketball legacy. He certainly hasn't forgotten the losses to San Antonio (twice) and Dallas just one step shy of the ultimate best-of-7.
He also doesn't let them linger. The belief in the Suns' locker room that two games are left in the conference finals comes from Nash. If he didn't believe, how can they?
"It starts with Steve," Channing Frye said.
Frye has battled back from his own demons in this series, starting 1-for-20 in 3-point tries against the Lakers. So when the guy who's suffered more playoff disappointment with less reward than anyone else ever says play on, you play on.
"You have to realize that we lost the game," Nash said. "And it doesn't matter how you lost it, you lost the game and we go home. We've got a chance to hold serve at home, and if we do that, we've got a wonderful opportunity to come back and make up for this one.
"So our attitude has to be great. We have to go home with a lot of strength from this game."
Coming off a night of heartbreak and heartburn, Nash soothes. The assists continue.
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