Steve Nash celebrated his 38th birthday on Tuesday night, but he looked infinitely more energetic and engaged than his 22-year-old counterpart, Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, in the Suns' 107-105 road win at the Bradley Center. Nash dismantled the Bucks' defense from every conceivable iteration of the high pick-and-roll set. He scored 18 points, dished out 11 assists and punctuated his performance with a three-pointer to give the Suns a 103-101 lead, an assist to Marcin Gortat to reclaim the lead at 105-103, and a game-clinching floater off the glass with five seconds remaining to set the final score at 107-105.
Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings struggled to slow Nash in pick-and-roll and sleepwalked his way to a very disappointing 3-point, 4-assist game. For most of the night he looked entirely disengaged on the offensive end, and his 1-4 performance from the field marked just the second time in his NBA career he has taken less than five shots -- the other being an 11-minute run in his first game back from a broken foot on January 29th, 2011, against the New Jersey Nets.
For most of his 28 minutes on Tuesday night, Jennings hovered aimlessly around the three-point line and made little to no effort to break the defense down or penetrate into the paint. He looked more like a 38-year-old point guard than Steve Nash did on Tuesday, and that stands as a compliment to Nash while doubling as an indictment of Jennings. Scott Skiles referred to his point guard as "disconnected" in the post game interview, while Jennings insisted he was fine and claimed he "just didn't have the shots [he] usually [has]."
The Suns dominated early with their starters, withstood a second-half run by the Bucks reserves, and turned back to their starters to close out the game in the final minutes. Every member of the starting five for Phoenix scored in double digits, while Grant Hill stood out as the only member of that group to shoot under 50 percent from the field. Marcin Gortat led the team with 21 points and Jared Dudley added 19 on 7-9 shooting, but it was Michael Redd who made the biggest splash outside of Nash.
In his first ever return trip to the Bradley Center as the member of an opposing team, Redd recaptured some of the magic from his 11-year career with the Bucks. He made decisive moves off the dribble and hit some silky jumpers on his way to 14 points. and helped the Suns jump out to a 67-50 halftime lead. Milwaukee played a tribute video for the former All-Star, and the sharp-shooting lefty received a very warm ovation when he entered the game with 4:05 remaining in the first quarter. It was a classy moment and something an all-around nice guy like Michael Redd absolutely deserved.
Not every moment could be quite as great for all parties, however. After the Suns jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead and bumped the margin up to 19 in the third, Bucks head coach Scott Skiles abandoned his starters and turned to the bench. Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, Stephen Jackson, Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders sparked a 27-4 run that transformed a Suns blowout into a 94-90 lead for the Bucks with 7:32 remaining in the game.
The bench unit for the Bucks moved the ball with a purpose on offense, disrupted passing lanes and forced contested jumpshots shots on defense and just plain outplayed the different combinations Alvin Gentry employed. Milwaukee's reserves outscored the Phoenix bench 54-22 on the night, thanks to 17 points and 12 rebounds from Ersan Ilyasova, 17 points from Mike Dunleavy and 12 from disgruntled shooting guard Stephen Jackson. S-Jax has been phased out of the starting lineup over the last few weeks, and when Howie Magner of Milwaukee Magazine asked him whether he still wants to be in Milwaukee after the game, Jackson provided this not-so-subtle quote: "I can't answer that. If I answer that, I'll get fined."
After the big push by the Bucks' bench, Nash and the Suns' starters re-entered the game with just over six minutes remaining, down by four. They closed the game on a 17-11 run that looked a lot like the first half. High pick-and-roll orchestrated by the future hall-of-famer moved Milwaukee defenders out of position just far enough to open up clean looks from beyond the arc and generate space for offensive rebounds to reset shots off the mark. The Suns actually failed to convert on a Grant Hill jumper with 26.6 seconds remaining, but Channing Frye deflected the errant shot to Marcin Gortat, who slapped the ball back out to Nash for another shot at the win after a 20-second timeout.
With defensive stopper Luc Richard Mbah a Moute subbed in to defend him, Nash used a staggered double screen at the top of the key from Frye and Gotat to get an angle to the basket to toss up a feathery right-handed floater for the game-winning basket. The Bucks had a chance to tie or go for the win on the last possession of the game, but a late-developing in-bounds play left Stephen Jackson at the top of the key with two Suns defenders draped all over him. In an unforgivable violation of situational strategy, the Bucks failed to even attempt a shot before time expired.
Rather than dwell on the failures of the Milwaukee Bucks, it is best to just focus on the seemingly timeless brilliance of Steve Nash. Enjoy: