One day after receiving his Most Valuable Player trophy, Steve Nash went out and showed the world why the award has his name on it for the second year in a row.
Nash scored 31 points, handed out 12 assists and led a stunning Phoenix Suns attack that generated 130 points against one of the league's best defenses in Monday's seven-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Phoenix shot 55 percent from the field and made 12 three-pointers, somehow turning back a Clippers team that shot 59 percent.
Nash's efforts on the screen-and-roll – the Suns' bread and butter – forced L.A.'s defense to react and help, spreading the Clippers out and leaving driving lanes open. Despite the Clips' size advantage, the Suns scored more points in the paint thanks to Nash's penetration and passing.
When L.A. covered up the lane, Phoenix went to work from behind the three-point line. The Suns scored 36 points on threes – compared to just 12 for the Clippers – and that was the difference in an amazingly potent series opener for both teams.
TEAM OF THE NIGHT
New Jersey Nets – The Nets went into South Florida and stole home-court advantage immediately from the Miami Heat with a resounding 100-88 Game 1 win. New Jersey took advantage of Miami's nine first-quarter turnovers to get off to a blazing start, turning the Heat miscues into easy fast-break hoops. The Nets raced out to a 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter and hit an incredible 18 of their first 22 shots. Once they were in a groove, they were tough to stop, and for the first time in the playoffs, Jason Kidd had his shooting touch. Kidd made seven of nine first-half attempts from the field, complementing New Jersey's usual Big Three of Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter and Nenad Krstic. Kidd was amazing in scoring 22 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out seven assists. The only cloud on an otherwise sunny day for the Nets was an ankle injury to Jefferson, who left the building wearing a walking boot. He is questionable for Game 2 on Wednesday.
BEST PERFORMANCE IN A LOSING CAUSE
Elton Brand – The All-Star forward was unstoppable, making 18 of 22 shots and scoring 40 points to set several Clippers playoff records in the process. Brand has a major size advantage in this series and will have his way with Phoenix's smaller defenders. Even with the Suns double-teaming him on almost every trip down the floor, Brand used his superior footwork and shooting skills to torch Phoenix. But if you're the Clippers, you have to wonder what hit you. Brand went nuts and had a career game, the team shot 59 percent from the field and poured in 123 points, yet all that netted was an "L." The bright side for L.A. is the fact that Brand can't be stopped by Phoenix – and the Suns can't possibly shoot like that every game. Or can they?
PLAY OF THE DAY
Jason Collins – Less than five minutes into the New Jersey-Miami game, Shaquille O'Neal posted up on the right block, turned and tried to score over the Nets' big man. Collins slid in front of Shaq, absorbed a blow and drew an offensive foul, O'Neal's second of the game. The foul changed everything. Shaq went to the bench, New Jersey didn't have to worry about double-teaming him anymore and the Nets' defense bottled up Miami. The call was questionable, but it was made and had a major effect on the game. O'Neal was out of rhythm for most of the night until he turned it on late in the fourth quarter when it was too late for the Heat to come back. In order to win this series, O'Neal has to keep himself out of foul trouble. But given that he's been in foul difficulty in five of the seven Heat playoff games, you wonder if he's capable.
VIEWERS GUIDE FOR TUESDAY
Game 2: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons – What can the Cavaliers do after suffering a blowout loss in Game 1? They have to strap on their boots and compete. If they do so, they could surprise a Detroit team that has a habit of getting too comfortable at times. The Pistons occasionally fall in love with their new offensive game and forget to play the defense that made them great in the first place. If Detroit does let down in Game 2, Cleveland had better take advantage. To do that, the Cavaliers must give LeBron James some help. Larry Hughes, who is shooting just 31 percent through seven playoff games, clearly still is rusty after his finger injury and long layoff. Zydrunas Ilgauskas hasn't been the offensive force Mike Brown was hoping he would be, and the supporting cast is up and down. Game 2 will be difficult, but it might be Cleveland's best chance for a victory in this series.
Game 2: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs – Watching Game 1 of this series, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Jeff Van Gundy a few years ago regarding the old Bulls-Knicks matchups. "We weren't worried about the triangle or how to guard [Michael] Jordan," Van Gundy told me. "We were worried about how we were going to score." Chicago's defense often was overlooked because of Phil Jackson's famed triangle offense and the jaw-dropping talents of Jordan, but ultimately it was the Bulls' team defense that opponents feared. And the same is true for San Antonio. Yes, you have to slow down Tony Parker and deal with Tim Duncan, but the real key is scoring enough points to beat them. Dallas couldn't in Game 1, despite the fact that Avery Johnson tried to get his team to run at every opportunity. The Mavericks need to attack early in the shot clock, but in order to do so, they must force turnovers and control the boards. That will make life easier on Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, who shot a combined 14-for-38 in the slowdown style of Sunday's opener. But if the Spurs can control the tempo in the series, they will have the advantage.