When Vincent “Vinnie” Johnson replaced either Isiah Thomas or Joe Dumars, the Pistons were consistently rewarded with points off of the pine. His nickname, “the Microwave,” referred to his ability to heat up at any time and fill up the score sheet. Danny Ainge plugged for his appliance moniker after Johnson placed Detroit on his shoulders and single-handedly won Game 4 of the 1985 Eastern Conference Semis vs. the C’s. He scored 18 of his 35 points in the 4th to secure a 102-99 victory in Joe Louis Arena.
He could get into the lane and hit his mid-range jumper at will. His impact as a supporting player for the Pistons led to their two titles. He represents the talent necessary for a successful second unit, players that might not start, but absolutely influence the outcome.
Steve Nash is one of the greatest point guards in the history of the NBA, but his return from multiple injuries present the Lakers with either a debilitating dilemma, or an intriguing opportunity. When a player of Nash’s caliber returns from an eight-game absence due to back, hip, and hamstring issues, the hope is that he is healthy enough to instantly return to form. It makes perfect sense to plug him right back into the starting lineup, for him to play immediately after warm ups so his ailing hip, back, and hamstring stay loose and he is ready to go.
Yet, Nash, like “the Microwave,” could provide an incredible boost offensively off of the bench.
Nash started Game 1 definitely looking for his shot, going 2-4 in the first five minutes of the ball game before Meeks replaced him. MDA wanted to get him involved early to build both his confidence and hurry along his rehabilitation to the level necessary to beat the Spurs. Upon his return with 1:40 left in the 1st quarter, the Lakers trailed 22-12, missing 5 of their 8 shots and committing 4 turnovers in his absence.
These numbers point to the obvious conclusion that the Lakers are better with Nash in the lineup, which, when healthy, is hardly debatable. However, Blake has been very effective as a starter to end the season. He has done an equally admirable job defending Tony Parker. In the Lakers and Spurs final regular season game, Blake scored 23 points and helped to hold Parker to 1-10 shooting and 4 turnovers. Parker played better in Game 1, putting up 18 points and 8 assists, but he shot 8-21 from the field, uncharacteristically missing layups en route to 38%. Much of his inability can be contributed to coming back from his own recent health battles, but Blake has been instrumental in his struggles. He is the hotter player, therefore, it seems logical to go with him and ease Steve back into the rotation, but they shared the point guard duties to start the game.
Nash ended Game 1 with 16 points in 29 minutes, going 6-15 from the field, but only managed 3 dimes. Although he started the 3rd quarter 2-5, he was looking for his shot too much. Again, it is important for him to find his rhythm, but he is not the Lakers’ advantage in this series, unless they move him to the pine to counter Manu Ginobili. Blake only scored 12 points on 5-13 shooting, hardly commensurate with his play of late. Neither seemed able to find their comfort in the game.
It would make more sense to put both Blake and Nash in a position to be absolutely effective for every minute that they will play. Each needs the ball in their hands, like any point guard. Each also needs the minutes to find their timing and shake off the rust. Game 1 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs hardly seems like the right time to work a player back into game shape, which is what starting the two together looked like. Also, starting both Blake and Nash leaves a point guard void in the rotation, especially since MDA failed to truly develop any of the other bench point guards.
Telling a two-time MVP and first ballot Hall of Famer to run the show from the bench isn’t the easiest of conversations, but this is the playoffs. It is a whole new season, and such an adjustment, although difficult, is entirely necessary.
As a sixth man, Nash can control the offense completely and help the struggling Jamison and Clark, who have fared much better with him at the point this season. Both Clark and Jamison only provided six points between them, with Clark posting the goose egg, in Game 1, leading to the 40-10 bench-scoring deficit. Their contributions must be better since Manu showed few ill effects from his stint on the IR. Nash can easily remedy that, as well as improve upon his 3-assist performance by finding Antawn and Earl.
The Lakers cannot afford to get down to any team on the road, let alone the Spurs in San Antonio. By the time Nash gets into the game, the Lakers bigs should have the Spurs in the bonus. This would allow Nash to operate in the key and gets some looks from the foul line, where he is dominant and can help him and his jumper develop some rhythm.
When Vinnie Johnson hit the court for the Bad Boy Pistons, the whole hoops universe knew that the ball would be in his hands and that he would be shooting the rock. His role was clear – score. Nash has an equally clear role with the Lakers – facilitate. It is the reason the Lakers brought him in, to pair with his old ball coach and find the magic they shared in their Phoenix heyday. He cannot do that without the ball, so MDA should wave him to the scorer’s table around the five-minute mark in the 1st quarter and let him do so until about midway through the 2nd quarter. He can repeat this in the 2nd half, and, if he has found his range, let him finish the last four minutes of the game as well. He was more than willing to relegate a hobbled Pau to the bench in the guise of improving their second unit, so hopefully he will recognize his star point guard isn’t 100%, yet could still help the bench provide a much-needed punch.
The playoffs often overload a coach with decisions about match ups. If Nash were healthy, the answer would be clear. He would start and Blake would anchor the point guard duties off of the bench. Starting them simultaneously hurts both players, and the Lakers desperately need some heat off of the bench. Nash, the former Sun whose post seasons routinely came to end because of the Spurs, could light a fire under the second unit and play an integral role in stealing Game 2.