Faint chants could be heard as Andrew Goudelock stepped to the free-throw line late in the first quarter.
“MVP!” fans yelled halfheartedly inside Staples Center, as if they were almost embarrassed it had come to this for the Lakers.
The newly minted most valuable player of the Development League did what he could in a performance worthy of basketball’s biggest stage Friday night, but there was no saving the Lakers during a 120-89 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round series.
Goudelock was supposed to be in Puerto Rico after recently signing with a professional team there. Instead, he found himself in a Lakers’ netherworld, starting alongside Darius Morris after injuries sidelined guards Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks.
The player that Bryant had dubbed the Mini-Mamba last season came up huge with a career-high 20 points on eight-for-17 shooting, and it wasn’t nearly enough as the Lakers fell into a 3-0 hole in the best-of-seven series.
“I’m not used to losing like that,” Goudelock said, “but in the same breath I think I showed a little bit of something that I can do and moving forward maybe it will give them a little confidence in me.”
Goudelock learned about an hour and a half before the game that he was starting from Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person.
He didn’t exactly cower in a corner of the trainer’s room.
“Nobody expects anything from me,” he said before the game. “The pressure is on the big fella and the big fella over there. I’m just a guy that got a good opportunity. Whether I do well or not, nobody’s going to care. Twitter might rip me up, but I’m so used to that. I turn off my phone and I’ll be fine. They’ll forget in two days.”
Or maybe not, considering the way Goudelock scored 10 points in rapid-fire succession in the second quarter. He made back-to-back three-point shots, forcing Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout.
Then came a six-foot floating jumper and a 16-foot floater that helped the Lakers pull to within 55-44 at halftime. Goudelock had 14 points by then after making five of his first eight shots. He got a halftime pep talk from Bryant, who told him to put pressure on the defense and get the crowd involved. Goudelock added three baskets in the third quarter, on a pair of floating jumpers and a breakaway dunk, before cramps set in and things fully unraveled for the Lakers in the fourth quarter. Goudelock missed his last six shots.
Drafted in the second round in 2011, Goudelock spent all of last season with the Lakers, though he played sparingly and averaged 4.4 points in 40 games. He was the last player cut in training camp last fall.
He became an immediate star in the Development League, where he averaged 21.4 points and 5.8 assists while playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Not that it was easy.
“I almost gave up so many times,” Goudelock said. “I would have to call my mom like, ‘Get me out of here. I don’t belong here.’ But you stay the course.”
Goudelock said he made about $24,000 in the Development League. Between his meager salary and his $40 in daily meal money, times were so tight that he had to ask his longtime girlfriend for financial assistance.
“She’s giving me money and she’s still in college,” Goudelock said. “So I’m like, man, this is just terrible. I didn’t have any other choice. There were some days I couldn’t even eat.”
He flew plenty. There were 13-hour travel days that included an alphabet soup of airports.
“You’re getting on three different flights and I’m sitting next to a 7-footer and a 6-10 guy for a whole day,” Goudelock said. “So I used to be so mad.”
Then the Lakers signed him.
He played six forgettable minutes in the Lakers’ regular-season finale and six more minutes in garbage time of their Game 2 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.
He had stepped up in stature considerably Friday.
Noticing a throng of reporters around Goudelock before the game, Lakers forward Metta World Peace took a tape recorder and joined the questioning. He then told Goudelock he would ask Coach Mike D’Antoni to yank Goudelock if he didn’t take 20 shots.
“If it’s going to be like that,” Goudelock said, “I’ll take 30.”
Even that might not have been enough for the Lakers.