Tuesday's 112-110 win over the Houston Rockets marked quite the purple and gold debut for Steve Blake. A pair of third quarter triples to help spark a rally. The game-winning three-pointer to ice a come-from-behind victory. An entire fourth quarter of run. Not too shabby a way to kick off four seasons in purple and gold.
Blake told Brian and me during our Media Day show he wasn't pulling a Ron Artest and placing the blame over a failure to Three-peat on his shoulders. As he noted, championships are won and lost by teams, not individuals. That doesn't mean, however, there was not relief in immediately demonstrating his worth to a demanding fan base right off the bat.
"It's just nice to start off and show people you belong. I'm happy to be here and I want to contribute," acknowledged the Maryland University product.
Blake's game winner was set up on a gorgeous cross-court pass from Kobe with 18.8 seconds remaining. Much was made last night and today in El Segundo about Bryant's willingness to trust Blake in this critical situation. In Bryant's mind, however, this decision to give up the ball would only surprise those not paying attention to Blake's career, because there's been plenty of precedent established.
"I've seen him play for years now," explained a nonchalant Bryant. "I've seen him make big shots before. I know he's not scared of the moment. He doesn't shy away from the moment."
Kobe seemed to fine the line of questioning odd (or just predictable), and I have to agree. That Kobe "trusting" Blake would somehow qualify as a surprise feels a little knee-jerk. No question, Bryant's issues ceding control to supporting cast members have been well-documented, a habit occasionally surfacing as recently as last season. But by and large these days, this is more exception than rule for Kobe, who typically gushes over the quality of his teammates. He'll never come off like Steve Nash, but his leash has accumulated considerably more slack over the last few years.
You also have to consider the situation.
Blake is a veteran who's gone mano y' mano with Kobe roughly a zillion times, and Mamba's made no secret of his respect for the point guard's skills and mental toughness. Plus, dude was in a zone and closed out the preseason with a pair of excellent preseason performances. While Kobe could been hyper-aware of the jitters potentially caused by putting a newbie in position to either win or lose a game, I can't picture this prompting Kobe not to give up the ball. If anything, it strikes me as more likely Kobe would seek a gut check from Blake in a high profile but relatively inconsequential setting.
Assuming that much thought was given to the matter, which I doubt was the case.
Having said that, I was kind of surprised Blake was on the floor for Kobe to trust in the first place. Even taking into account the quick comfort level Blake has demonstrated in the triangle, this was still his first game and crunch time has been typically been Derek Fisher time, bad shooting be damned.
Still, Jackson liked the way Blake was playing on both sides of the ball and decided to stick with what was working.
Another Interesting factoid regarding last night's rotation. Lamar Odom's quick pair of first quarter fouls thrust rookie Derrick Caracter into some floor time Jackson never imagined coming.
"He didn't imagine it, either," smiled Jackson, who sympathetically described the scenario as "unfair" to Caracter.
I figured Jackson opted for the kid over the experienced Theo Ratliff was an effort to maintain continuity in the rotation, since the vet would inevitably enter the game with the reserves. Caracter preserves the normal rhythm as much as possible while preventing Ratliff from being over-extended.
As it turned out, the issue was simpler:
"We haven't played Theo and Pau together," explained Jackson. "Theo has only played as a backup to Pau. He hasn't worked with him together. We're pretty skeletal at the bigs, just getting through practice."
With Caracter clearly overwhelmed, Jackson eventually teamed Ratliff and Gasol over long stretches, deeming the results "okay."
There was also talk about last night's seriously cool, seriously personalized ring ceremony. Odom really enjoyed being presented his jewelry by close bud Luke Walton, then turning around and gifting lifelong chum Artest.
"It was cool," noted LO. "These are guys that are like family to me now. Luke and me are tight. Me and Ron have been tight for a long time. That was a proud moment for me as a basketball player. As a teammate, one of my proudest moments."
Here are some additional clips from last night of various Lakers discussing the personal connections between bling givers and recipients.