Reserve guard Steve Blake makes a three-point shot late in the fourth quarter… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The defenses continued scrambling.
Denver couldn't leave Kobe Bryant open on the perimeter. After Pau Gasol set a solid pick that sent Danilo Gallinari flopping to the ground, the Nuggets couldn't leave the Lakers' forward open in the post. Yet there stood one man open behind the three-point line, ready to fire away. Once Gasol found him, Ramon Sessions drilled the open three-pointer, giving the Lakers' a three-point cushion with 48.1 seconds left.
The defenses continued scrambling.
The Nuggets again couldn't give Bryant an open look to the basket. So Gallinari and Nuggets guard Ty Lawson doubled up against him at the free-throw line. Yet there stood one man open behind the three-point line, ready to fire away. Once Bryant found him, Steve Blake drilled the open three-pointer, icing the Lakers' eventual 92-88 Game 4 victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets.
The three-pointers Sessions and Blake nailed came on opposite sides of the court, but the circumstances appeared remarkably similar. The Nuggets worried more about containing the Lakers' stars than their supporting cast. The Lakers punished Denver both times.
The significance of how the Lakers won in Game 4 against the Nuggets can't be overstated. It gives the Lakers a 3-1 series lead with a chance to close things out Tuesday in Game 5 at Staples Center. The Lakers survived Denver's track meet. And it showed how L.A.'s continued trust in Sessions and Blake paid off.
Bryant and Gasol instantly hugged Blake after his shot, showing appreciation for him having the sharp dagger after struggling with his shot for most of the season. The reaction toward Sessions' basket was more subdued considering the Lakers still only led 89-86 with 48.1 seconds remaining. Yet the significance was obvious. This marked a clutch moment in only Sessions' second career road playoff game in his five-year NBA career.
Who knows if the Lakers' collective backcourt will provide similar clutch moments moving forward the same way Derek Fisher famously did in many playoff series. Fisher, for one, will try to prevent that from happening should the Thunder meet the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. But the Lakers are clearly showing trust that Blake and Sessions can rise to that moment.
Blake's shooting marks in two years with the Lakers (35.9% last season, 37.7% this year) pale to his career average (40.4%). After scoring nine points in Game 1, Blake went only one-of-eight from the field in Games 2 and 3. Yet, Bryant told reporters he remained confident in passing Blake the ball after seeing him take a game-winner last season in his career debut with the Lakers against Houston.
Sessions has already showed his playoff clutchness by scoring 10 fourth-quarter points in the Lakers' Game 2 victory over Denver. But it still marked some growth considering Sessions remains tentative on when to score and when to facilitate. Gasol's willingness to set him up instead of forcing something into the post reveals the Lakers' insistence that Sessions also have some of the scoring pie.
There will be times the Lakers will mostly just need both Blake and Sessions to hold their own on defense, something they've actually struggled with this series in tempering Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. The open shots Blake and Sessions take won't always drop into the hoop. But as they proved Sunday, they're willing to take the responsibility.