Ex-Terp Steve Blake played crucial role in Lakers making NBA playoffs

Since Steve Blake went to the Los Angeles Lakers three years ago, the former Maryland point guard had rarely been much of a factor – first playing behind Derek Fisher, then Ramon Sessions and finally this season behind Steve Nash. Many Lakers fans felt as if the team had spent way too much when it signed Blake to a four-year, $16 million contract.

There were times when Blake's looked like he was playing in the Bermuda Triangle rather than the Triangle offense under Phil Jackson and later Mike Brown. But injuries to Nash this season turned Blake into a starter again, and Kobe Bryant's recent season and possibly career-ending torn Achilles has allowed Blake to suddenly become a much-needed scoring option.


With a playoff spot on the line, Blake led the Lakers to home wins over San Antonio and Houston, scoring 23 and 24 points respectively, to help Los Angeles finish as the No. 7 seed in the West. The two-game scoring spree was the biggest of Blake's 10-year career, and the point total he put up against the Rockets Wednesday was one shy of his career high.

After the win over the Spurs on Sunday, the headline on the Los Angeles Times website started "Steve Blake Channels Kobe Bryant…" as a result of scoring 18 points in the first 18 minutes. Teammate Antawn Jamison, who also played with Blake in Washington, told reporters, "It's the most aggressive I've seen him offensively."


Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said that "Steve Blake was just going crazy and defensively was all over it."

Blake's reaction was typically low key.

"Man, it's almost you don't think anymore," Blake said of hitting seven of his first eight shots. "Everything's just happening and the ball comes your way and you just shoot it as quick as possible. It's a great feeling."

There were even references on Twitter to calling the now 33-year-old Blake "the white Mamba" in reference to Bryant's self-proclaimed "Black Mamba" nickname.

While few are expecting the still banged-up Lakers to put up much of a fight against the Spurs in the opening round, at least Blake will get to play against someone nearly his own age, soon-to-be-31 San Antonio star Tony Parker, rather than top seed Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook. Parker had just four points on 1-for-10 shooting while battling a sore neck in Monday's game againt the Lakers.

Though Blake has never been much of a scorer dating back to his years playing alongside Juan Dixon at Maryland, he's always been capable of putting up decent numbers. He is probably going to have to do that for the Lakers to have any chance in the opening round.  Blake has some bittersweet memories from last year's playoffs.

After hitting a number of big shots in an opening-round victory over the Denver Nuggets, Blake missed a crucial 3-point shot in Game 2 of what turned out to be a four-game sweep by the Thunder. Blake and his wife Kristen became the target of hateful and obscene tweets – including one that reportedly said, "I hope your family gets murdered."

Blake has always been one of the classiest players to come out of Maryland. A year ago, when the Sun was putting together stories on players from the 2002 national championship team to commemorate the 10th anniversity of the title, I mentioned to Blake that it seemed remarkable that he had the most successful career. Blake politely disagreed, pointing out what Dixon and others had done.


I know a lot of Maryland fans will be paying attention to what Blake and the Lakers do in their upcoming series against the Spurs.

Rooting for him, too.