But when Nelson did just that early in Monday’s 125-119 overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the play was anything but routine for the longest-tenured Magic player. With his dribble-drive-and-dish play, Nelson became the franchise’s all-time leader in assists.
Nelson entered Monday’s game needing one assist to tie Scott Skiles, and he did that in the opening minutes of the game. Then, with 4:13 left in the first quarter, Nelson put on a clinic in one play on how to set up a defense for a basket and his record-setting assist.
``I’m not a guy for individual accolades, but when you get a little older you reflect on those things, realize what you did and tell those stories to your kids,’’ said Nelson, who now has 2,787 career assists. ``My son is getting to be 11 years old and sometimes he can’t even believe some of the things that I did in college. But hopefully he’ll watch (ESPN’s) SportsCenter (on Tuesday) morning.’’
Nelson etched his name in the record books with his first-quarter assist Monday night, but it wasn’t even his most exhilarating play of the game. That came with 8.9 seconds remaining when he once again shook Portland’s prized rookie, Damian Lillard, and drilled a game-tying 3-pointer.
That shot helped the Magic rally from a five-point deficit and force overtime. Nelson wasn’t able to fully enjoy his record-setting night or his clutch 3-pointer because the Magic struggled in overtime and fell for a ninth straight time. Still, Nelson was brilliant with 21 points, 12 assists and just one turnover in 47 minutes on the court.
Never one to focus on himself, Nelson worried more about the plight of the Magic than basking in his impressive night.
``It’s just tough for us right now and we have to keep together,’’ said Nelson, a Magic co-captain. ``We can’t start separating. When you separate that’s when you start getting blown out and doubt starts coming into your mind and you question things. You have to stick together no matter what, whether guys are in or out and just keep playing as hard as we can. I think we’re doing that now.’’
The Magic traded up to select Nelson in the middle of the 2004 NBA Draft and they haven’t regretted it ever since. He’s been the starter since the middle of his rookie season, reaching one all-star game and helping Orlando make the playoffs each of that last six seasons. That’s the longest such streak in the Eastern Conference.
Nelson could have left the only professional franchise he’s ever played for in the summer when he became an unrestricted free agent for the first time. But he wanted to stay with a franchise that always believed in him when some thought him to be a too-short, shoot-first point guard.
Now, Nelson is in the midst of one of the finest seasons of his nine-year NBA career. His 14.8-point scoring average is his highest in four seasons and his 7.0 assists a night are the most of his career.
And Nelson has arguably never been better offensively than he has been during the past week. He tied his career high with 32 points and hit a personal best six 3-pointers on Wednesday against Chicago. On Saturday, he had 29 points against Knicks and drew within one of Skiles’ assist record with nine assists.
And then came Monday’s record-setting, some flawless passing to set up big offensive nights for J.J. Redick (29 points) and Arron Afflalo (24 points) and the game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation.
After the game, Nelson was asked if he was able to get his hands on the game ball to keep it as a memorial to the night. Nelson again shielded the spotlight from himself and his new assists record.
``I didn’t even think about (snagging the game ball),’’ Nelson said. ``You got one ball, you’ve got ‘em all.’’
What means much more to the point guard is that he has spent his entire career with the Magic. It is a source of pride for him and his identity as a professional basketball player.
``My identity is being a Magic player and I have been that the past 8 ½ years,’’ Nelson said with a smile. ``That’s my identity. … I’m number 14 in that Magic jersey and that’s’ my identity.’’
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