On a team with 4 All-Stars and likely future Hall of Famers, he is not the first guy that comes to mind when it comes to determining Lakers success. Depending on who you talk to he comes before or after Bernie Bickerstaff. But Steve Blake is playing the best basketball of his NBA career the last 2 weeks, and is making the difference for the currently playoff bound Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers won in Indiana Friday night on the third game of their road trip. They beat the team leading the race to meet Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. Without Kobe Bryant who missed most of the game with the much discussed ankle injury (this site included), Steve Blake virtually led the team with 18 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds in 35 minutes. He was 5-7 from behind the arc, and Blake played 35 minutes! Those are Ricky Rubio numbers, plus he shot the ball well.
Without Kobe, Steve Blake makes for an unlikely shooting guard when paired with Steve Nash. The two white guys formed the whitest back court in the NBA this season excluding every backcourt combination from the Timberwolves. Like Nash, Blake is not particularly quick, nor is he big, and Blake doesn’t shoot as well as Nash. But the Lakers results suggest what Blake does do, makes a big difference.
Steve Blake returned from injury two weeks before the All Star break on January 29th. He was out recovering from abdomen surgery, over which time the Lakers were 19-25 to start the season. Since his late January return, the Lakers are 16-7, which includes the current 10-3 run the Lakers are on right now. Over those 13 games, Steve Blake is averaging almost 25 minutes per game. Mike D’Antoni has not run a very deep bench since coming to Los Angeles, but 25 minutes per game suggests he trusts Steve Blake, and Blake is performing too.
Blake’s effort on the defensive end is contagious. He is not the shut down perimeter defender he was when he played at Maryland and shutdown the seemingly unstoppable Jason Williams time and time again. But he makes the rotations that many of the other veterans don’t get to. He finds his man on the defensive glass as well.
Offensively, Blake does what very few of his teammates do–move the ball quickly. Blake pushes the ball up the floor, and he does not often let the ball settles in his hands. He either probes with the dribble or moves it out of his hands quickly. And he hasn’t made them always, but Steve Blake is not afraid to take the big shot.
Steve Blake could have been on his way out of Lakersland after he missed the game winning 3 from the corner against Oklahoma City in Game 2 of last season’s playoff series. It would be perfectly understandable for neither Lakers fans, coaches, Kobe, and especially Blake himself, not to be able to trust him. But Blake is playing the best basketball of his NBA career. His numbers aren;t his best, but he is a difference maker on the floor.
Friday he made a big 3 with under 2 minutes to go, stole a ball from behind Stepheson, drew a foul, made a heads up to break a trap, and had a defensive rebound. And with that he took one more step in saving the reputation of the 4 Hall of Famers on the roster while proving an often missed point in the NBA–the importance of role players.