MILWAUKEE (AP)—Steve Nash dishes out the compliments just as eloquently as he does the basketball.
“A lot of guys played well tonight,” Nash said after scoring 21 points and amassing 17 assists in leading the Phoenix Suns to a 121-115 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
Led by Nash, the Suns had 29 assists on 43 baskets.
“Oh, my teammates are perfect players. They can finish, shoot,” Nash said with a shrug.
Of course, it all starts with Nash, who has had just as big an impact on his new team as Shaquille O’Neal has had in Miami.
Behind Nash, the Suns (34-10) are on pace to become just the 10th team in NBA history to go from 50-plus losses one year to 50-plus wins the next.
“Right now, I’d say he’s the MVP of the NBA,” Bucks coach Terry Porter said. “The way he’s changed that team around? I don’t know if you could bring another point guard in the league and put him on that team and assume they’d have the same type of success they’ve had. I think it would be very difficult.”
Nash, who joined the Suns as a free agent last summer after leading the Dallas Mavericks’ high-scoring offense for several seasons, also had three crucial steals and two clutch free throws at the end.
His best play of the night came on a nifty behind-the-back save under the Bucks’ basket late in the game.
“You have to realize, he is a true point guard,” teammate Shawn Marion said. “He is looking to pass first, shoot second. That is very rare in this league and that is what we need.”
His great games have become so customary that Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said, “it doesn’t even register anymore. Seventeen assists, 21 points. Not too bad for an old man. He’s on a different planet.”
Bucks guard Mo Williams had no answer for Nash on the court and none in the locker room when asked how to stop him.
“You can’t,” Williams said. “You’ve got to pick your poison with him, either give him the jumper or play up on him and he’s going to find the open guy. He’s a great player and that offense is made for him. And he does a good job of running it.”
“That’s the way we’re most successful,” Nash said of the high-scoring, spread-it-around offense. “If we keep the game under 100, we’re not going to be nearly as dangerous. It’s important for us to play like that.”
The only thing Phoenix did wrong was missing four free throws in the final minute, which allowed Milwaukee to cut an eight-point deficit to two, 117-115, when Desmond Mason sank two foul shots with 13 seconds left. But Nash sank two free throws with 12.5 seconds left and Richardson did the same with 5.8 seconds left to thwart the comeback.
Tired legs had finally gotten to the Suns 24 hours after scoring a season-high 133 points at New York.
“I think that we were a little tired down the stretch,” Nash said. “But not tired enough. We made the plays when it counted. We have a lot of guys that we can lean on.”
Michael Redd led Milwaukee with 27 points, and Mason added 19.
After Nash’s two fast-break baskets, the second off a steal, keyed a 10-2 run that put the Suns ahead 80-72, Jim Jackson, in his third game with the Suns, swished three jumpers as Phoenix built its lead to 93-82 entering the fourth quarter. Jackson, acquired from New Orleans last week, finished with 11 points.
“He’s been terrific for us,” Nash said. “It’s great to have another veteran. It’s great to have another guy who can play.”
And who gives Nash another veteran he can lavish with both praise and passes.
Bucks F Marcus Fizer will miss 7-10 days following surgery on his right elbow, which he banged onto the court Friday night against Detroit. Fizer sustained a deep cut and needed an operation to repair the bursa sac. … Bucks PG T.J. Ford, who won’t play this season because his spine is still bruised following surgery last year, is rehabbing in Houston and will rejoin the team after the All-Star break. … Milwaukee is 1-9 when opponents shoot better than 50 percent. Phoenix shot 50.6 percent, prompting D’Antoni to say: “I’m getting way too spoiled.”