Falling down on the job was a moment Steve Blake may never forget.
In a good way.
The Lakers were teetering on the brink of an extended off-season Saturday night when their backup point guard took a pass from Kobe Bryant in the corner midway through the fourth quarter.
Blake spotted up and released the ball before absorbing a body bump from Denver Nuggets counterpart Andre Miller that sent Blake crashing to the Staples Center court.
But the ball continued on a steady and true trajectory, falling through the net to give the Lakers a five-point lead in their eventual 96-87 triumph in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.
“I hate Steve Blake tonight,” a dejected Nuggets Coach George Karl said, “but I love him as a player and I loved him when we had him [in Denver].”
Having amorous feelings for Blake was easy for Lakers fans after he scored 19 points on seven-for-11 shooting in his team’s biggest game of the season. He made five of six three-pointers, matching his proficiency from beyond the arc in far less dramatic circumstances Feb. 20 during a regular-season game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I can’t lie,” Blake said after scoring more points than he had in any previous game as a Laker. “It feels great.”
Naturally, the big moments in this series came in threes for Blake.
There was the trio of three-pointers he made in the first quarter of Game 1, a 103-88 Lakers victory.
There was the three-pointer he made with 18.9 seconds left in Game 4 to seal the Lakers’ 92-88 triumph.
And then there were all his threes in Game 7.
“I felt like every time he let that bad boy go,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said, “it didn’t matter where he was because for the most part he was open and it was going in.”
Blake was largely open because the Nuggets continually double-teamed Kobe Bryant, a strategy that backfired as the star shooting guard passed to his teammates on his way to eight assists. Bryant fed Blake on three of his three-pointers.
“How it really comes about is playing off my teammates, just getting to the open spots and Kobe drawing double teams and finding me,” Blake said. “He was reading the floor extremely well tonight and when I got the opportunities, I took them and shot the ball with confidence.”
Blake didn’t always look so sure of himself. He had made only 33.5% of his three-pointers during the regular season, his lowest percentage since he shot 32.2% from beyond the arc during the 2006-07 season.
In the first six games of the playoffs, Blake had made nine of 24 (37.5%) three-pointers. But he made his first five three-pointers Saturday, including a pair in the second quarter that helped the Lakers build a 39-31 advantage.
“The way Denver was playing defense, they really were giving us the open shots and taking away our scorers,” Blake said. “That’s why we were able to get those shots. I don’t get those shots without my teammates creating for me. It’s up to them to get me the ball and I was able to make shots.”
Blake made two more three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including his knockout blow from the corner. Not that it surprised Bryant.
“He’s just insanely competitive,” Bryant said of Blake, “so I knew in Game 7 he’d be ready for that challenge. He answered the bell.”