INDIANAPOLIS — For far too long, the Lakers gushed about Steve Blake in ways that doesn’t always resonate with the common fan.
They love his feistiness. They love his team-first mindset. They love how he organizes the bench by making great reads and setting up teammates.
But in the Lakers’ 99-93 victory Friday over the Indiana Pacers, Blake provided all those qualities in ways that a box score can quantify. He posted a season-high 18 points on 5 of 7 shooting from three-point range, seven assists, four steals and two blocks.
“It was just one of those nights,” said Blake, who’s averaged 5.3 points and 3.9 assists per game this season, while still providing the aforementioned intangibles. “Everything felt really good. It was a fun night to be out there.”
And it sure came at the right time. Kobe Bryant only played the whole first quarter and missed all four of his field-goal attempts while nursing a sprained left ankle. Blake’s effort made it possible for Bryant to sit the rest of the game without the Lakers suffering any consequences.
“Steve Blake was unbelievable. If you watch him, it was like a clinic,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s tough and puts his nose everywhere and comes up with big plays.”
Not that the Lakers are that much surprised.
“He’s a competitor. That’s really what you’ve got to judge players by,” Bryant said. “A lot of times, we get caught up in their numbers and what their statistics are, but really you’ve got to look at the core of a player. He hates to lose. He loves competition.”
Blake showed that in various ways in his 35 minutes against Indiana.
Blake drilled a 3-pointer that gave the Lakers an 85-84 lead with 3:10 remaining. He followed that up with a steal that set up Steve Nash finding Dwight Howard for a three-point play that gave the Lakers a 90-87 edge with 1:30 left. Blake, a Maryland grad, bragged in the locker room that his team beat Chris Duhon’s Duke Friday in the ACC Tournament.
“He adds some really good things to our team,” Nash said. “He gives us another guy who can shoot from the outside, he’s an intelligent player and he scraps. There’s a lot of room for guys like that. He fights. He’s smart. And he can make shots.”
As a result, the Lakers came out with a signature win despite Bryant sitting out for most of it.
“We have so much respect for Kobe giving us his effort, but we knew once he went out it would take all of us to step up,” Blake said. “It’s a great feeling when you can do that as a team, really get a big win.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org