Take a bow, Steve Nash

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Steve Nash loves basketball and the game, obviously, loves him.

"He doesn't play like a 35 year old and if he has lost a step like some people say, he makes up for it with intelligence and tenacity," Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said yesterday.

Then, Nash went out and dismantled the Raptors in a 113-94 win. Few pro athletes show such passion, relish, leadership and commitment as the Victoria native.

"It's obvious every time he steps on the court. He's playing better now than those two years he was the MVP in the league," Gentry said. "I wouldn't trade him for any guard in the league."

Nash had 16 assists and 20 points yesterday. The entire Raptors team had 15 assists.

When the Suns signed him to a two-year contract extension in the off-season, skeptics noted his age and said he couldn't possibly continue to be effective in the Suns' up-tempo style.

"I love it when people write stuff like: 'Oh, I don't know about the extension?' Or, 'he's too old.' He's an unbelievable competitor. We make sure he reads those," said Gentry, chuckling. "You tell him he can't do something he'll go out of his way to prove you wrong."

To illustrate, with 5:44 left in the first quarter, the Suns have 15 points and Nash has a hand in 12 of them. He draws three Raptors to the key and feeds Jason Richardson for the open look from the corner. He bounces a pass through the paint to Grant Hill. Fans barely finished cheering an Andrea Bargnani dunk when Nash fires a pass downcourt to Jared Dudley. Suns up 23-18. Good-bye Raptors.

"He gets everybody touching the ball," Raptors Chris Bosh said. "He's aggressive and makes shots ... tough shots."

Nash has helped turn a team that failed to make the playoffs last year into one with a franchise-best 14-3 start. They are back playing the up-tempo game that disappeared when Shaquille O'Neal arrived two years ago.

"We played of two minds last year. We talked of being a running team and the truth was that we weren't. Shaq was one of the greatest post players of all time but we had guys who were more suited to running. We never really figured that out," Nash said.

A second-half Raptors comeback dies when Nash feeds Channing Frye for an open jumper, hits a pull-up jump shot himself, hits two foul shots, and sandwiches a fade-away jumper around two more assists. Goodnight Raptors.

The Suns again are Steve Nash's kind of team.

"We weren't supposed to be where we are right now and Steve has been the major factor," Gentry said. "Coming in we were nervous about the chemistry and how everyone (free agent Frye, draft pick Goran Dragic and Richardson) would fit in. There were unknowns ... guys follow (Steve)."

So, where will it all end? Wayne Gretzky, Canadian icon of another game, once talked of finishing his career in Toronto. It is something Nash considered, but then Jose Calderon signed a deal in 2008 to be Toronto's point guard taking him through 2013.

"I thought about if that was a real possibility. It would be exciting if it was a real opportunity. It would've been exciting to weigh as an option against Phoenix. I love (Toronto), it's my own country. I have lots of friends here. Bryan Colangelo drafted me and Jay Triano is as good a coach as I've ever played for. There's a lot of reasons I'd love to play for the Raptors, at the same time I love Phoenix and the timing wasn't great."

Gentry would like to see him retire with the Suns.

"I don't think he'll hang around if he's not effective. He's not the type," Gentry said. So, like Gretzky, a final hurrah in Toronto seems unlikely.

"I wouldn't (sign with Toronto) just to hand out towels but if I could still play at a good level ..."

The sentence goes uncompleted -- the first time that happened with anything Steve Nash touched all afternoon.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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