A year ago, Steve Blake missed a crucial three-pointer in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder; which would have tied the series at 1-1, coming back to Los Angeles.
I was watching the game at ESPNZone at L.A. Live for the Lakers Nation viewing party, and I was extremely upset at the loss. However, I wasn’t upset because of Blake’s missed shot, but rather because the Lakers had given up a comfortable lead in the closing minutes–largely due to Kobe Bryant’s turnovers.
I never once blamed Steve Blake, as he had only one option when Bryant gave him the ball at the last second (shoot it!), and he simply missed the shot. He didn’t fumble the ball and drop it out of bounds. He didn’t shoot an air-ball. No, he simply missed a last-second shot as many players have done in the past.
Plenty of Lakers “fans” unfairly placed Blake as the scapegoat, and even sent death threats to him and his family. (Steve recently broke his silence on the issue to 710 ESPN Radio.)
However, since his return from an early-season abdominal injury, which virtually sidelined him until February, Steve Blake has been playing solid basketball.
His numbers won’t quite stand out in the stat sheet, as he’s averaging 7.7 points and 3.9 assists since his return in late January, but he’s progressively played better, and most recently become the Lakers’ motor since Kobe Bryant went down with a season-ending injury.
Now, it’s time to give some credit to Steve Blake.
Shortly after Blake’s return, while Steve Nash was still playing, Nash transitioned into more of a scoring role. However, Steve Blake often came off the bench and provided the leadership and play-making much needed for the Lakers’ second unit–along with sharp shooting from behind the three-point line..
In the month of March, Blake played well and averaged 7.3 points and 4.4 assists; but did so on 44.3 percent shooting from behind the arc.
He and Antawn Jamison really developed a solid pick-and-roll game during that time, where on countless plays Antawn would set a pick, roll to the basket and Blake would find him for an easy bucket. Similarly, he had developed a nice two-man game with Dwight Howard; even running effective pick-and-rolls and posting him up at the correct times (the correct times usually being when Kobe Bryant was on the bench).
Recently, in the current month of April–a month in which Steve Nash has missed all eight games–as the regular season came down the home stretch, Blake boosted his level of play even more and averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Moreover, in the two games since Kobe Bryant’s injury–which were also the last two games of the regular season and had a profound impact on whether the Lakers missed or made the playoffs (and also on which seed they placed)–Blake has established himself as the player with the “killer instinct.”
On Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs, Blake scored 23 points, pulled down five rebounds, dished out four assists and stole the ball twice, while hitting four of his eight three-point attempts. Then on Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, he followed up his performance with 24 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while knocking down four three-pointers and hitting all eight of his free throws.
Additionally, prior to Kobe Bryant’s injury, Blake had earned the trust of Kobe; Bryant appeared to have confidence in Blake last season despite that missed three-pointer, but his trust has increasingly grown ever since. The Black Mamba even singled Blake out when speaking with ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin in mid-March after Blake tallied 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds while hitting five of seven three pointers in a victory over Indiana in a game where Bryant had to leave after the first quarter due to an ankle injury sustained in the previous game:
“He’s a competitor. That’s really what you got to judge players by. A lot of times we get caught up in the numbers and what the statistics are, but really you got to look at the core of a player and what he is. He’s a competitor, he hates to lose, he loves competition so you know in those moments, he’ll step up more than not.”
Any time Kobe is throwing around praises, it certainly holds some weight.
This season, Blake has exhibited a tenacity on defense, sharp shooting, solid decision-making and his ever-present fiery play.
More importantly, he’s stepped up exponentially during games in which fearless play has been needed.
He’s risen to the occasion on multiple occasions, and will surely be a key player going into the playoffs.
That, in itself, deserves a little bit of credit for a player who was getting death threats just less than a year ago for simply missing a shot.