By Dennis J. Freeman
El-Segundo, CA-Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Blake doesn’t mind lurking in the shadows of his more famous teammates. On a team that features future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, a perennial all-star in Pau Gasol, a Lakers legend in Derek Fisher and the flair of ultra-skilled entertainment maven Lamar Odom, Blake is content with his unsung role.
He’s not going to get a lot of burn on the court. When he does get into games, he’s not going to put up a ton of points. His main contribution to this year’s Lakers title run is locking up opposing point guards on the defensive end, distributing the ball and popping in a three-point shot every now and then.
This fits Blake and the Lakers just fine.
“I’m on one of the best teams in the league,” Blake shared with news4usonline.com in a recent interview. “It’s not about minutes for me, stats or anything. It’s about winning games and trying to win a championship. I can get some points if I really tried, but I don’t think that is what this team needs from me.
“I’m going to try to continue to do the things that I’m doing. It starts with defense, trying to execute our defensive game plan, make the point guard have to take tough shots, be a great help defender, and offensively, push the ball and find guys, not turn the ball over and make shots when they are open.”
The Lakers signed Blake to a four-year, $16 million contract for those reasons. With Fisher nearing the end of his NBA career, the Lakers knew coming into this season they needed to get some fresh legs to spell the veteran point guard from time to time.
The Lakers needed a player young enough to inject some bounce and energy into the triangle offense, a player that would be mature enough to know and accept their role in the team’s overall schematic plans. Much like John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong and Steve Kerr was to coach Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls championship teams, Blake is the perfect complement to the Lakers roster of stars.
Paxson, Armstrong and Kerr all played under the radar while playing aside his Airness Michael Jordan. But all three men played integral parts in the Bulls winning six championships under Jackson, the hand that now rules the Lakers universe.
Paxson hit the three-point dagger in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns that clinched Chicago’s championship that year. Kerr sealed the Bulls’ 1997 title against the Utah Jazz by burying a last-second, 15-foot jump shot to knock off the Utah Jazz in Game 6. All Armstrong did was make one clutch shot after another to help Chicago win the first three of its six championships.
In many ways, Blake mirror those players, ballers who knew when to stay down while Jordan and the rest of the Bulls stars shined, but was expected to deliver when the time called for it.
Asked if he would be ready if that moment was thrust upon him, Blake didn’t blink.
“I’ll be ready, absolutely,” Blake said.
This season, Blake is averaging just over four points a game for the Lakers, his lowest scoring output since he played for the Washington Wizards during the 2004-2005 season.
His playing minutes are also at a low. But Blake is cool with it all. Blake is okay with dishing the ball and getting out of the way of Bryant, Gasol, Odom and center Andrew Bynum and letting them do their thing. He’s comfortable knowing that when his number is called, he can be effective putting up shots at the opportune time.
“If I’m out there, I love taking shots,” Blake said. “Whether it’s the beginning of the game or the end, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s still the same shot, so you just have to go out there and shoot with confidence. [But] I’m definitely more of a distributor. That’s the way I’ve always played. All of the teams I’ve had success on-that’s won championships in high school and college, to me that’s a point guard role. That’s the way I’m going to play.”
Jackson likes the way Blake has played this season. Even though his time and scoring opportunities has been limited, Jackson said Blake is very effective in what he does.
“We really enjoy Steve’s play,” Jackson said. “He gives our game a whole different form of energy and speed accelerates our game a lot. He ran into trough shooting for a while, but we hope that he is out of it. He’s really that effective. He’s a game-shooter. He’s not a high percentage shooter, but he makes big shots.”
Coming up big at the right moment has been embedded in Blake’s DNA throughout his basketball career. Whether it was running the show for the University of Maryland’s 2002 championship team or dropping in key shots as an eight-year pro, Blake has always been that guy to come up clutch. This fact makes the Lakers even more dangerous and better positioned to run the table on their championship quest.
The Lakers’ run for a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance is much sharper than it was a year ago, when the team sort of skidded into the postseason. If their play in recent games is any indication, the Lakers appear to be steamrolling into the playoffs. The Lakers have only lost once since losing to Cleveland right before the NBA All-Star break.
The key to the team’s recent run is remaining focused with the mission at hand and not allow earlier setbacks throw them off track, Blake said.
“You have to remain consistent,” Blake said. “No matter what part of the year we’re in, whether we lost a couple, we always stay confident in ourselves. Even when we lost a couple of games, no one lost faith or confidence in each other. As long as you still have that confidence as a team, as individuals, you’ll stay on track.”
That confidence shot up when the Lakers recently went on the road and took down some of top teams in the league in their own backyard, Blake said.
“It showed that we can go into the best team’s arenas and win,” Blake said. “That gives you more confidence. The fact that we’re playing together on both ends of the floor, defensively, we’re getting stops, we’re just getting closer as a unit. I think that’s making us stronger.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”