Whatever nickname you could conjure for Steve Blake on Sunday night worked. The Lakers guard scored 18 points in his first 18 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs, actually surpassing the nearly point-a-minute pace Kobe Bryant had produced two days before his torn left Achilles’ tendon appeared to rupture his team’s season.
“Man, it’s almost you don’t even think anymore,” Blake said of a stretch in which he made seven of his first eight shots. “Everything’s just happening and the ball comes your way and you just shoot it as quick as possible. It’s a great feeling.”
Blake couldn’t sustain that kind of scoring frenzy, of course. He didn’t have to. He made the kind of scrappy plays the Lakers needed in the final 78 seconds of a 91-86 victory at Staples Center, converting three of four free throws and grabbing a rebound. He even imitated Bryant when the Spurs trapped Blake and forced him to call a timeout with 40 seconds left. Blake immediately yelled at teammates Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard for not coming over to help him. Blake finished with a season-high 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals while playing lockdown defense on Tony Parker, the Lakers requiring every bit of production to keep intact their playoff hopes. All they need to make the postseason is to beat Houston on Wednesday or to have the Utah Jazz lose one of its last two games.
“It’s the most aggressive I’ve seen him offensively,” Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said of Blake.
His first half was full of Mamba moments. Blake made a crisp inbounds pass from the baseline to Howard for a dunk, the play infuriating Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich so much that he immediately called a timeout to yell at Tiago Splitter for his inattentive defense. Blake made a flurry of shots in the second quarter, including a three-pointer from the corner after the Lakers had misfired on their first seven attempts from beyond the arc. He dribbled around Parker for a pull-up jumper and then had fans roaring when he made back-to-back three-pointers, the second of which gave the Lakers a 40-35 lead. At that point, Blake had made seven of eight shots and four of five three-pointers.
“Steve Blake was just going crazy and defensively was all over it,” said Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni.
Blake helped hold Parker to four points on one-for-10 shooting, Popovich electing to sit his best player for the final 8:58 in favor of Gary Neal and Cory Joseph. Said Blake: “I was surprised not to see him out there, I’ve got to say, but Popovich has his ways.” Said Popovich: “It wasn’t because he was resting. He was playing awful.” Blake has largely been a disappointment since signing a four-year, $16-million contract in the summer of 2010. As far as memorable moments go, he made a big jumper in the first round of the playoffs against Denver last season and well, if you can’t remember anything else besides his stepping on a parking lot spike strip you’re not alone. His scoring and assists have been below his career averages in each of his first three seasons with the Lakers, and he missed 37 games earlier this season because of abdominal and groin issues.
But Blake has been solid over the last month, scoring in double figures seven times. He was never as good as he was in the first half against the Spurs. Blake was so crazy hot that at one point White Mamba was trending on Twitter. “Anything referring to me and Mamba,” Blake said, “I don’t know if I could live up to that.” He could Sunday.
After being sidelined since early November with an abdomen injury, Steve Blake is finally set to return to the Lakers on Tuesday night in a matchup with the New Orleans Hornets. Here’s the news straight from the point guard’s Facebook:
“Road to Recovery update: I’ve been cleared to play in next Tuesday’s game. It’s been a long road and I’m thankful for the support. I’m really looking forward to being back on the court with the LA Lakers.”
Although the Lakers have depth at the point guard position, and backup point guards Chris Duhon and Darius Morris have had their share of notable games (although they were largely overlooked due to the Lakers’ other issues and struggles), neither reserve has had a consistent impact as of late. Additionally, Mike D’Antoni had long been a fan of Blake and always inquired about the point guard out of Maryland during his coaching tenure with the Phoenix Suns. Apparently, D’Antoni saw Blake as the perfect fit for his system. Blake averaged just 5.1 points and 3.4 assists while shooting 40.0 percent from three-point land in the seven games this season prior to his injury, so it will be interesting to see if D’Antoni’s point guard driven system will open things up for the 6′ 3″ guard. Kobe Bryant appeared to entrust Blake as well, most notably during the playoffs last season. Nonetheless, the Lakers will have another option in the back-court.
The Lakers recently got Steve Nash back on the floor after seeing him sit on the sideline since Halloween, but they’re still without their second string point guard, Steve Blake. While Nash has been very helpful, the lack of Blake has still impacted the team, who has been forced to play Chris Duhon and Darius Morris for significant minutes at the point guard position. Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni mentioned that Blake is still a little ways from being able to return to the team’s rotation, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles. D’Antoni said that Blake was about “2-3 weeks” away from returning after undergoing abdominal surgery in early December. Having Blake available will certainly cut into Nash’s minutes. One of the main reasons Blake’s return is so important is the impact it will have on Nash’s minutes. He played 31 minutes on Wednesday in Denver, which was on the heels of a 40-minute game against the Knicks on Christmas. Even for a player with the conditioning of Nash, that’s brutal for a 38-year-old. Blake’s return will certainly be a positive sign for the Lakers, but until he is able to get back on the floor the team will have to make do with the personnel they have.
The Lakers announced Monday that guard Steve Blake will undergo laparoscopic surgery Wednesday to “repair a torn abdominal muscle.” The procedure, to be performed by Dr. Craig Smith, will sideline Blake another six to eight weeks. Blake has been out of action since November 12, adding to the team’s point guard woes with Steve Nash also out with a leg injury. Darius Morris and Chris Duhon have filled in with mixed results. Coach Mike D’Antoni noted after practice Monday that he is considering starting Duhon instead of Morris. The Lakers are 8-9 so far this season, after dropping two of three this past week. They’ll play seven of their next eight games on the road. Nash could be seen shooting after practice. D’Antoni noted his veteran point guard had ramped up his activity recently. If Nash suffers no ill effects, he will continue to do more work until he is healthy enough to play.
After having an MRI today it looks like more bad news with my abdominal strain. The strain is still there and it’s been confirmed that I will be out at least another 2 weeks. It’s been a long process healing from this, but the more thorough the better. I look forward to healing completely and returning to the LA Lakers team as soon as I can. -Steve Blake
Steve Blake steals the ball from Jason Williams as the first half winds down in the Terps victory over Duke during the last meeting of the two at legendary Cole Field House.