Nick Young has spent all season shaking the labels that have followed him throughout a decade-long NBA career.
Gunner. Disinterested on defense. Not a team player.
Take the Lakers’ Tuesday night win over the Oklahoma City Thunder as an example of Young’s evolution. He matched up with Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s leading scorer, whenever they were both on the floor. He mostly scored in the flow of the offense. Fans in the Staples Center shouted “Uncle P” after he did, which is the mature version of his better known nickname, “Swaggy P.”
But then the game boiled into the final seconds and all of that went out the window. Nick Young was unabashedly Nick Young, and the Lakers would not have had it any other way.
“I think they should have given me a steal for that,” Young said of his game-winning three, which came with five seconds on the clock and led the Lakers (8-7) to a 111-109 victory.
“I was in the way, stole the ball from Lou [Williams], he let me know after that I’m lucky I made it.”
It worked because it was so simple, or because it was so complicated — it’s hard to tell. What is clear is that Lakers Coach Luke Walton drew up a play for Williams, the Thunder left him open, and then Young stepped in front of Brandon Ingram’s kick-out pass before launching the game-winner from the top of the arc.
Williams was ready to shoot the ball until he saw a flash of yellow take it away. Young, who finished with 17 points and four threes, was upfront about stealing the ball from his own teammates. Williams said Young’s “narrative would have been different” had the shot not gone in.
“Aw it means a lot, you know?” Young, a Los Angeles native, said. “I mean watching Robert Horry shots and all that, Kobe’s and Derek Fisher, 0.4 seconds and all that. Except mine’s kind of unique. I stole it from my own teammate. It wasn’t designed for me, but it did go down.”
When asked about the game-winning play, Thunder Coach Billy Donovan gave a stoically technical response. He said his team did not switch correctly. He said two defenders chased the ball and Jerami Grant fell for a shot fake. He said, ultimately, that the Thunder “got behind the play.”
“Listen, Young made a tough shot, it wasn’t like he took a layup,” Donovan said. “He made a very deep, fall-away three so give him credit for putting the ball in the basket.”
Also give him credit for having the instincts — or guts? — to intercept a Lakers pass in open space and steal the burden of the game’s result.
Here is what some others thought of Young’s game-winner:
Walton: “I think it’s absolute BS that he doesn’t get a steal on the stat sheet for that because he stole that pass. I told him if you steal the pass you better make the shot, and it was a pretty incredible shot by him.”
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo: “[Young] kind of came out of nowhere. It looked like it was going back to [Williams]. He kind of came out of nowhere to grab it and shot it. Made a big shot for them.”
Williams, laughing: “Everybody knows Nick, man, he’s half serious always never, if that makes sense.”
About most people, that description would make no sense.
For Young, it sure does.
“Obviously, that’s one of the reasons we like Nick on the court at the end of games,” Walton said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He loves the moment. He made a big shot for us.”