DENVER – Coach Mike Brown never said anything to the Lakers reserves.
“He didn’t need to tell us,” said one of them, Steve Blake.
No one did. The Lakers’ bench knew it had been underperforming, on offense in particular, and that the continuing problem had become a major reason the Nuggets won Game 3 and were threatening to tie the best-of-seven series late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
It was that fourth quarter that changed everything — the game, the direction of the series, and definitely the perception of the subs in need of an image boost.
Jordan Hill, the one consistent L.A. reserve in the series, continued his steady play with four rebounds in the period (11 for the game) to go with 12 points for his second double-double in four tries. Blake, though, went from shooting 25 percent the first 3 3/4 games to hitting three of four in the final quarter Sunday. That included two of three from behind the arc as clutch moments in the 92-88 victory that earned the Lakers a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
“I thought the energy we got from Jordan Hill with his double-double was huge for us,” Brown said. “That, to me, was probably the biggest difference in the game, the way we played at both ends of the floor and especially in the second half tonight.”
Matt Barnes had no such success, making just two of six attempts to go to 23.1 percent for the postseason. But getting Blake going while Hill continued is reason for encouragement as the potential showdown with Oklahoma City drew closer.
“We understand if we’re shooting the ball well or not,” Blake said. “If we’re making those shots, it opens things up for (Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol). It’s as simple as that. They’re going to get double-teamed. The focus of defenses is going to be on Kobe and Andrew and Pau, and we’re going to get open shots. And it’s just up to us to make them.”
Brown doesn’t have many options other to hope for nights like this. He has shortened the rotation to where Hill, Blake and Barnes are the only reserves getting real minutes. There was nothing to do on Friday, for example, as the Lakers bench managed just nine points — six from Barnes and three from Blake.
But more performances like this from the Lakers’ backups, plus the potential return of Metta World Peace, could make all the difference this postseason.