PHOENIX — Nashapalooza, which is a huge betting favorite to rank as the most memorable event of this Phoenix Suns’ season, turned out to be a dramatic salvo with many engaging characters.
The biggest role, of course, was handed to former Suns superstar point guard Steve Nash, who showed up Wednesday night for his old team’s retro “Back In Black” jersey event in the yellow work clothes of the dreaded Los Angeles Lakers.
Suns fans arrived at US Airways Center in large part to thank Nash for helping create something they strongly consider worthy of being rebuilt. Lakers fans, many of whom have relocated to Arizona (and its more reasonably priced housing), were on hand to see if Kobe “Dimestore” Bryant could wreck the Suns’ Back In Black party by being Back In Black Mamba mode.
The presence of so many Laker loyalists made Nashapalooza seem as close as it gets to a neutral-site game.
But when the metaphorical dust landed after the Suns had scored a 92-86 triumph, we were forced to embrace the notion that a truly odd night of basketball had been hijacked by Michael Beasley.
As the star of this night, Beasley — who knocked in 10 of his game-high 27 points to key a 29-13 Suns fourth-quarter uprising — was too much for Nash, Bryant, Dwight Howard or even front-row spectator Michael Phelps to overcome.
In addition to looking very much like a go-to employee, Beasley even remained engaged enough defensively to rotate in time to collect five steals. His late-game eruption helped Phoenix come back from a 13-point fourth-quarter hole.
Interim head coach Lindsey Hunter was rewarded by his faith in the first-year Suns forward and now holds a 3-2 record since replacing Alvin Gentry.
Anyway, shortly after the Lakers had slipped to 20-26 and the Suns had stepped up to 16-30 (while helping their cause in securing L.A.’s Nash-related 2013 first-round draft pick), the lasting impact of this confounding night would shift back to Phoenix’s two-time Most Valuable Player.
“It was very flattering and very sweet,” Nash said. “It was very kind of the organization.”
Oh, right. The soon-to-be 39-year-old Laker was referring to a first-quarter video tribute provided by the Suns. The loss to his old team was registered as “a big setback for us especially. We were in control of the game and couldn’t close it out.”
For the record, carefully selected clips from great moments in Nash’s Suns-centric history were shown while accompanied by the P. Diddy-Skylar Grey collaborative tune “Coming Home.”
The 17,184 US Airways witnesses responded to the stark and emotionally scored visual reminder by rising for a noisy ovation. It also should be noted that Nash’s pregame intro was backed by a loud chorus of tribute peppered with some enthusiastic booing. Once the game began with Nash rounding around with his new Laker cronies, most touches were saluted with additional booing.
But as homecomings go, this one really moved the meter.
“This is a very special place for me,” Nash, echoing his pregame comments, said of Phoenix in general and the Suns’ home arena in particular. “It’s a great reception. To be in front of these incredible fans … I’m very grateful for the reception of the fans in showing their appreciation of my time here … it’s among the best years of my life.”
But it was miles from one of his best nights.
In almost 34 minutes of US Airways burn, Nash provided the Lakers with 11 points — going 3 for 8 from the field — and only two assists. In this bizarre format, Bryant continued his altruistic flurry, adding nine dimes to the 39 he accumulated during three recent Laker triumphs.
Kobe finished 7 of 17 from the field and ended the night with a team-high 17 points, but his fourth-quarter Back in Black Mamba recidivism yielded only two makes in seven shots.
It certainly didn’t hurt the Suns’ uprising when Howard reinjured his right shoulder in an under-the-rim scrum and left for the night with just under seven minutes to play.
“We got stagnant,” Nash said, “and that caused us to make turnovers and miss shots.”
With the door to a rally opened, Beasley and the Suns — urged toward victory by the usual “Beat L.A.!” battle cry — marched through.
“We came together,” Beasley said. “You know that has really been our problem this whole season — the end of the third and fourth quarter. We just told each other we do not want to lose, especially in front of a crowd like that and on national TV.
“Me … I just did what the team allowed me to.”
OK, so before we anoint Beasley as the next great (or even above average) Sun, let’s hop over to a moment of clarity from Nash.
“It’s one of the great franchises in basketball,” he said of the Suns. “It’s a terrific franchise, and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Although most of the Suns fans that turned out for his return were enthusiastic in their appreciation, life as a Lakers employee may not afford similar hope for his future.
During Wednesday’s fourth-quarter surge, a young woman held up a sign that read, “Good luck with that ring, eh.”
Yeah, that’s pretty cheeky. But the sentiment could be attached to players, coaches and fans of both teams.