A depleted Los Angeles Lakers backcourt with an ailing Steve Nash compounded by a season-ending injury to Kobe Bryant meant that one of, if not all, remaining guards had to step up and answer the call. Steve Blake heard it loud and clear against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night at the Staples Center.
With a chance to extend their one game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff pursuit, Blake came up big with a season-high 23 points on 8-of-16 from the field, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range. He also added four assists, five rebounds and two steals in the Lakers’ 91-86 victory.
His stellar performance prompted fans to dub Blake “White Mamba,” paying homage to Bryant’s famous “Black Mamba” moniker. The nickname quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, but the humble Blake wanted no part of it.
“Anything referring to me and Mamba,” said Blake. “I don’t know if I could live up to that.”
The Spurs led 21-20 after the first quarter, but Blake torched San Antonio in the second quarter, going a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point territory and scoring 14 of the Lakers’ 21 second quarter points.
“Once I saw one (3-pointer) go in, just keep shooting it until you miss,” said Blake.
After a 43-43 tie by halftime and a 61-61 deadlock heading into the fourth quarter, timely 3-point baskets from Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks in the final 12 minutes contributed to the victory. Lakers center Dwight Howard led the team with 26 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.
Blake also played heady defense on the Spurs’ offensive jump starter—point guard Tony Parker—by trying to keep the nimble five-time All-Star in front of him, which is always a trying task. However, Parker was also hampered by a recent shin injury and it showed with his scant four points on an abysmal 1-of-10 shooting performance.
“Steve Blake was just going crazy,” said Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni. “And defensively, was just all over it.”
Blake’s recent play starting in place for Nash has been instrumental in the Laker’s current four-game win streak. In the last seven games without Nash, Blake is averaging 11 points, 3.6 assists and five rebounds per game.
The 2012-13 season didn’t start so positively for Blake following a bizarre foot injury in which he stepped on a spike strip in a parking garage just prior to the start of training camp. Then he suffered an abdominal tear in early November, which sidelined him for 37 games.
A return back to the lineup on January 29 marked a new start for the 33-year-old backup point guard. In an offensive system that is conducive to point guards under Coach D’Antoni, Blake is thriving. It’s been his most productive season in points, assists and rebounds since joining the Lakers in 2010. His field goal percentage and 3-point accuracy have also vastly improved in comparison to the last two seasons in Los Angeles.
Overall, Blake is becoming the reliable backup that Los Angeles hoped he would become after signing him to a four-year, $16 million deal almost three years ago. The Lakers also hope his stellar play continues, particularly at a time when the backcourt needs him the most. His ability to spread the floor with his shooting will allow forward Pau Gasol and Howard to operate more efficiently in the post. Ball-hawking defense and unrelenting hustle from Blake will also be a boon if the Lakers find themselves in the playoffs.
A victory on Wednesday night means that Los Angeles will clinch a playoff berth regardless of what the Jazz do in their next two games—it’s as simple as black and white, but not black and white mambas. Blake’s counterpart, the “Black Mamba,” tweeted his satisfaction for Sunday night’s victory.
Whew!! Well done my dudes. Well done. UNO MAS #playoffs
Ben Hernandez Jr.
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