Christmas came a little early for Laker fans as Steve Nash made his long-awaited return to the starting lineup against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. Since Halloween night, the Lakers and the fanbase have been searching to find some sort of identity and some sort of an answer to win games, and had been consistently coming up short.
While the Lakers certainly had their struggles during Nash’s absence, there remained a sense among the real fans that the team’s true state could not be determined during the Nash-less era between Halloween and December 21st. Of course, every source of concern is not solved automatically with Nash’s return, but his presence makes a huge difference.
As Mike D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant stated regarding Nash (per Ramona Shelburne):
“The guy is a winner,” D’Antoni said of Nash after the game. “There was a difference before the game. He changes everything. He changes the whole perspective.”
“It’s easy. It’s very easy. It’s beyond easy,” Bryant said about playing with Nash. “You put two guys together who can do opposite things and it fits extremely well. When I get a rebound, I look to get the ball in his hands because I know I will be getting an easy shot.”
Basketball isn’t about perfection. It’s about finding the will within to win. Sorry if that sounded too much like the Gatorade commercial. However, it’s true. More than anything, the Lakers too often played without a reason and without purpose in the games so far this season. The talent is there; no one can argue against that. Yet, success means finding it within yourself to commit yourself to the team and to each other and perform as a unit towards a goal.
On Saturday, I saw the will to win at all cost in the closing quarter and in overtime. Despite Kobe (yes, he shot a lot), Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard having off-nights, in the clutch they came together as a team to win and actually won. You could see the determination on everyone’s face, or in Kobe’s case, his jaw. The victory against the Warriors represented much more than solely a checkmark on the win column.
The game was more than the return of Steve Nash. It was more than finally getting a win against a great team. Unlike the win against the Bobcats, where the Lakers overcame an 18-point victory to win by one, the game wasn’t won by fortune. This win showed glimpses of what this team truly has the potential of achieving. The game against Golden State featured the good, the bad and the ugly from the Lakers, but also featured what the fans have been waiting for since October.
With their backs against the wall, facing a highly competitive team on the road, the Lakers chose not to quit. More importantly, this time they chose not to quit on themselves. As Dave McMenamin put it brilliantly:
Each player could have wallowed in his lot and focused on the fouls or the misses or the minutes or whatever. Collectively, the team could have curled into a ball and taken its lumps with yet another loss on the road.
But with Nash in the fold, they chose to fight.
The game on Saturday was the best method to test the Lakers as far as testing how they perform as a team, in the clutch, with a tough hill to climb. Given that this game was the real debut for Steve Nash as a Laker and the fact that it was a road game (the Lakers notably struggle on the road), the reality to accept the challenge and overcome it without being cushioned or protected by excuses came alive.
Of course this one single game doesn’t mean that everything is going to be easy or that every problem is solved, but it was the long-awaited step in the right direction for the Lakers. Physically, a win is a win. Mentally, this type of come from behind win has the potential to drastically change the entire landscape for the team. They fought with everything they had, and they came out victorious. The impact that that has to a player and a team’s confidence and morale tends to be astronomical.
The Lakers still face an uphill battle. They are currently the 11th ranked team in the Western Conference, and eight games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division. However, as I said before, basketball isn’t perfect. There are obstacles, challenges, injuries, cold streaks and countless other barriers to overcome. This is also what makes this game so great, and LA loves drama, right?
We witnessed a Lakers team on Saturday that didn’t go down for the count. They fought, and fought as a team. The Lakers must continue to fight by playing from will within to climb that uphill battle, get into the playoffs and prove their talent as a team to compete with the best. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.”