The moment he dropped a three-pointer that sealed the Lakers’ 101-94 victory Friday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center, Nick Young flashed imaginary guns with his fingers and then put them back into his figurative holsters.
It marked one of the many instances where both Young’s theatric scoring and theatric celebrations gave plenty of the 18,997 fans at Staples Center to temporarily forget about Kobe Bryant’s six week absence because of a fractured left knee. But Young wasn’t done. With the Laker fans suddenly clamoring for free tacos, Young chased a loose ball that caused him to fall into the courtside seats.
Young didn’t just soak up the spilled drink as a consequence of his never-ending hustle. He dropped 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including going 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Young dished off four assists. He even took a second-half charge.
Add it all up, and it’s clear that both Young’s production and insatiable enthusiasm has spilled over to the rest of the team.
“He rubs off on me and makes me happy, I know that,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “There’s no doubt and he’s done it a few times. When we have a shootaround and the energy’s down, he’s ‘swaggy’ out there and he feels it and he starts ‘swaggin’ or something and he starts going and he gets everybody’s energy up.”
No one epitomized that more than Pau Gasol. After hitting a 3-pointer that gave the Lakers a 95-89 lead with 3:59 remaining, Gasol held out three fingers as he slapped hands with Nick Young to imitate his so-called “Swaggy P” dance.
“He has that quality, that gift, of getting people going, in a good mood,” said Gasol, who posted a near triple double with 21 points 13 rebounds and eight assists. “I was happy that he rubbed off on me a bit.”
Well, maybe Young hasn’t done so completely.
Young stood in the locker room after the game wearing a black jacket sporting various patches, including a teddy bear wearing sunglasses, a dollar sign symbol and the NFL logo modified to say ‘JOY’ over the chest.” Young also sported a gold necklace and a hunter-green bandana.
“I told you man. Today was my war day,” Young said. “I had to come in like Rambo. I knew today was going to be my day and go all out. I was Swaggy Rambo today.”
Unlike Dwight Howard, no one on the Lakers has told Young to stop smiling.
“It’s not a silly energy — and sometimes you have that,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a good, positive fun. It’s OK, it’s in the morning, it’s 10 o’clock, we’re on the East Coast and it’s 7 o’clock in L.A., but you know what? Swaggy’s out there doing his thing and he’s dunking and yelling at the assistant coaches and it gets everybody up.”
It’s gotten Young up, too.
Young has cracked double digits for 12 consecutive games. He has embraced a bench role so much that he often talks about winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. D’Antoni notes Young has put more effort in developing a balanced game after solidifying his reputation in his six-year NBA career as a player who shoots first, passes later and defends never.
“Hopefully I’m going to have the most charges on the team by the end of the year,” Young said. “We got a little contest, me and Robert Sacre. I think I’m winning. But
I got the wind knocked out of me on one charge. That made me think about not taking any more charges. But I’m about to get defensive player of the year.”
It’s become an ongoing joke for Young. But he’s actually taking it seriously.
“I consider him an energetic guy and guy who brings positive energy around,” Gasol said. “He’s very confident. With the way he’s been playing, his confidence is really high right now. I don’t consider him being silly at all. It’s just him being extra confident and getting everybody else in his state.”
Young exemplified that when his post-game interview session quickly morphed into playful bantering with Lakers forward Xavier Henry. Just as Henry emerged from the showers and dressed himself at his nearby locker stall, Young playfully poked fun at Henry’s 21 points on an 8 of 19 clip.
“The story today was X got his 19 shots,” Young said, gesturing toward Henry.
“Yo, don’t bring attention to me while I’m trying to get dressed, dawg!” Henry said.
But Henry started creating more attention when he interrupted a reporter’s question on whether Young could win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
“He gets ’em up! He gets ’em up!” Henry said. “Pump fake, pump fake, step back, spin move, spin move. I ain’t got it, shoot it, miss it, grab it, shoot it again.”
Henry wasn’t done.
“Tell ’em your motto,” Henry said. “’When in doubt, shoot that thang!'”
“I try not to think about it,” Young said referring to the award. “But next game, I’m going to try to get 19 [shots] like my man, X.”
“OK, do it!” Henry responded. “You might get a bucket, finally.”
The laughs continued when Young fielded a question on his three-finger celebration even when he makes two-point shots.
“Why are you hold three fingers down when you made a 2?” Henry said. “That’s what [the reporter] is really asking. Why do you hold three fingers down when you just made a 2?”
“Man what’s wrong with you,” Young said. “Why are you a hater? When did you become a hater?”
“He just didn’t want to get up in your face about it,” Henry said, referring to the reporter.
“You are the hater of the year,” Young said. “I can’t believe this.”
“Come on, big dog,” Henry said. “You know I love you.”
And with that, Young then left the locker room still beaming about his game, his post-game exchanges and his general outlook on life.
“I got that glow!” Young said. “When you got that glow, you feel it!”
The Lakers sure do, clinging on his radiant energy that’s both boosted the team’s spirits and play.
Said D’Antoni: “I couldn’t ask for a better human being or player.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com