Among the few positive revelations amidst L.A.’s season flush with injuries was the late emergence of backup point guard Steve Blake, who – before even his season ended in injury – showed himself capable of carrying a heavy load in April.
A hamstring strain kept Blake from playing in Games 3 and 4 of L.A.’s first round loss to San Antonio, and an abdominal injury and subsequent surgery limited him to 45 regular season games, but his play down the stretch was critical in getting the Lakers into the playoffs.
Steve Nash missed the final eight games of the regular season, and Kobe Bryant the final two games in addition to the playoffs, leaving Blake to shoulder a vastly increased load in the backcourt.
“Towards the end of the year, I got to really show some of the other abilities I haven’t shown while I’ve been here,” said Blake in his exit interview. “There’s so much talent here and not a lot of shots to go around. With Kobe out and Nash being hurt, someone had to take those shots and be ready to step up.”
In the regular season’s final two games against San Antonio and Houston, L.A.’s playoff fortunes hanging in the balance and its Hall of Fame backcourt in street clothes, Blake did this: 23.5 ppg; 6 rpg; 5.5 apg; 1 spg; 8 three-pointers made. The Lakers won both games, jumping into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, avoiding becoming just the third Lakers team since the late Dr. Jerry Buss bought the team in 1979 to miss the postseason.
That’s how Blake capped a strong April in which he averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 boards, 4.0 assists and 1.0 steals. Furthermore, coach Mike D’Antoni repeatedly pointed out that Blake was his best perimeter defender, both on and off the ball.
Having undoubtedly proven his worth, Blake hopes to play a key role next season, particularly now that D’Antoni has had a chance to see what he has in players like Blake.
“I think it could definitely work,” Blake concluded. “I’m not exactly sure what the personnel is going to be, but if we had a whole summer, I think coach (D’Antoni) could figure out exactly what works best. We definitely have the talent. That’s what the summer time is for.”