With the shot clock winding down, Steve Blake found himself with hardly enough time to react, let alone release a shot.
Portland guard Nicolas Batum blocked his mid-range jumper with two seconds left, but Blake still found a way. The ball landed in his hands, he stepped behind the arc and nailed a three-pointer from the right wing.
Plenty of other things demanded attention in the Lakers' 103-92 victory Monday at Staples Center over the Trail Blazers. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak released a statement stating the organization will conduct business leading into the March 15 trading deadline without input from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. With better ball movement, a 35-7 first-quarter lead offered a temporary refuge from Bryant's frustration with the front office and Gasol's uncertain playing future. The Lakers earned a double-digit victory just a night after losing by a similar margin to the Phoenix Suns on the road, further illustrating the team's disparity between playing at home (14-2) and away (5-11).
But Blake's three-pointer, which gave the Lakers a 74-55 third-quarter lead, revealed everything about his season-high 17 points on six-of-nine shooting overall (and five-of-six mark from three-point range) in 21 minutes. It showcased his quick reaction time, his rhythm and his sharp shooting — three elements that appeared absent in the past five games after returning from a rib injury that had kept him sidelined for 13 games. Blake averaged five points on 31.4% shooting during that stretch, a sharp contrast to the 7.3 points on 40.2% shooting he provided through 12 games before his injury.
"I wasn't totally 100%," Blake said about his return. "There were parts of my game I couldn't do. Changing direction fast was tough for me. I'm getting able to do that again. Being weaker than I was, I hadn't been able to lift weights for a month and really get my body to the condition I need it to be. I'm starting to get back to where I was before I got hurt."
Blake's five three-pointers neared his career high (he made six in 2009, with Portland against Milwaukee).
Blake also attacked the lane, dropping a rainbow teardrop off the glass for a score in the second quarter.
"The way that Steve Blake shot the ball tonight, he was extremely efficient," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "If those guys can continue doing that and running the team and then defending the way they did tonight, that's all we need from our point guard spot. We don't necessarily need 17 every night from Blake, but if he is open, just step up and knock the shot down like he did tonight."
The Lakers will welcome any production they can get from three-point range. They were eight for 19 from long range, well above their season average of 30.1%. Blake also helped the reserves score 30 points, almost nine points above average for a unit that ranks last in the league.
"When we knock down three-point shots, we're a completely different team," Kobe Bryant said. "It makes us a very dangerous team. [Blake's] a great shooter and floor general. We missed him tremendously since he was out."
Now that he's back, Blake can thank his improved rhythm and conditioning for restoring his shooting stroke.
"It's made a big difference," he said. "You're able to shoot when you're tired and make passes and react. It's hard to do that when your legs are gone. All that stuff starts to come back to you and you're able to pick it up as you go."