By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
1:46 PM AKDT, May 13, 2012
There’s not been a lot to cheer about for Maryland basketball fans the past couple of years -- most notably two seasons without a postseason invitation and Terrell Stoglin’s misguided decision-making off the court that recently ended the college career of last season’s top scorer in the ACC.
Things are going to get better in College Park, but for those Terps fans trying to get their fix of hoops and happiness, Steve Blake is providing a pleasant little interlude. If not for the former Maryland point guard, the Los Angeles Lakers might be the NBA’s biggest bust of the 2012 playoffs.
Blake, who struggled mightily in his first year (and Phil Jackson’s last) in Los Angeles and seemed to be one of the scapegoats at times this season under Mike Brown, helped the Lakers avoid a first-round collapse against the Denver Nuggets.
Actually, you can make a strong case that Blake was the reason the Lakers will be opening their second-round series in Oklahoma City on Monday night. He came up big in three of the four wins against the Nuggets, none bigger than what he did Saturday night.
In helping the Lakers avoid blowing a 3-1 lead with a 96-87 win, Blake had the best playoff performance by a Los Angeles bench player in 25 years. He hit his first five 3-point shots and made a couple of huge 3s after the Nuggets erased a 13-point deficit to take a 4-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Blake’s career-playoff-high 19 points were the most by a Lakers reserve since Michael Cooper scored 21 in Game 2 of the 1987 Finals against the Boston Celtics.
"I can’t lie, it feels great," Blake, who finished the series shooting 14 of 30 on 3s, said during a rare appearance in the interview room at Staples Center. “It’s a good feeling to make shots and help your team win. That’s really what I’m all about. Whether it’s taking charges or finding the open man, it doesn’t matter if I get any shots as long as we win the game, but the way Denver was playing, they really were giving us the open shots and taking away our scorers."
Kobe Bryant, who was instrumental in the Lakers signing Blake as a free agent during the summer of 2010, kidded with TBS analyst Steve Kerr at courtside during the telecast that the former Chicago Bulls’ guard could have hit those shots Saturday night. But Bryant, who finished with 17 points and seemed content to play facilitator when the Nuggets double-teamed him, gave a lot of credit to Blake.
“He’s just an insanely competitive individual," Bryant said. "So, yeah, I knew in Game 7 he’d be ready for that challenge. He’d answer the bell and he did."
Whether Blake and the Lakers have anything left for the Thunder is a big question. As good a defender as Blake is – that was one of the reasons Bryant pushed the Lakers to sign him to a 4-year, $16 million deal – Nuggets guard Ty Lawson gave Blake and Ramon Sessions fits. Now the Lakers will have to slow down Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Reminded that he won a state championship while in high school in Miami and a national championship at Maryland, Blake said, "I got to get an NBA championship. I got to finish the three-peat. I got to get them all and this is my best chance to do it right now."
Maryland basketball season does not start for six months. Have fun, Terps fans. Root for one of your own.