After a while, coincidences become trends and trends become habits, and Nick Young has reached that stage when it comes to playing against the Los Angeles Lakers. When he sees purple and gold, his game spikes to a different level.
Young scored a game-high 19 points and dished out a career-high six assists in leading the Wizards to a 106-101 win against the team he grew up watching in his hometown. Asked afterward how it would feel to play the Lakers 82 times a year, Young cracked a smile and said, “If we can, it would be fun.”
It would also be fun if the Wizards played the way they did the final 20 minutes on Wednesday night, when Trevor Booker and a trio of reserves, including Young, rallied back from a 21-point deficit and turned a building filled with Lakers fans and Kobe Bryant lovers to their side.
“That’s what we do here,” Young said — though the Wizards don’t really do that at Verizon Center.
What the Wizards also don’t do in Washington — or at least rarely do — is defeat the Lakers. They had lost five straight at home and eight straight overall against a team that could always count on a blowout win or a Bryant barrage to bail them out. The Wizards hadn’t defeated the Lakers since some guy named Gilbert Arenas went from (Agent) Zero to 60 points in a 147-141 overtime win at Staples Center.
The Lakers had a too-cool-for-school attitude in the face of the Wizards’ furious rally. Lakers center Andrew Bynum even admitted that he was “kind of loafing around, having a good time and they caught up.” And, Bryant couldn’t deliver those crushing fadeaways and pull-up three-pointers that he often saves for games against the Wizards. Instead, he was busy chipping away the paint from the rims, missing 15 of 18 shots in the second half. He was 1 for 10 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s just my defense,” Young said, before pausing to laugh. “No, I’m just playing.”
But Young did use his wingspan to help make Bryant take more difficult shots. Bryant didn’t have much trouble getting his shot up over Jordan Crawford, as he scored 20 of his 30 points in the first half. After admiring Bryant and studying his every move since he was basically in elementary school, Young was able to make him uncomfortable.
“I’m just doing the best I can,” Young said. “Just stay with him. Not going for his pump fakes. You know I grew up watching him. I knew everybody back home was watching, I didn’t want to get embarrassed, you know.”
Young did have a few embarrassing moments, though. He was alone on a fastbreak and the ball squirted out of his hands and over the backboard as he attempted a breakaway dunk. He also had another baseline dunk blocked by the rim in the fourth quarter. Young typically lets those plays get him down, but he kept battling, and even made a come-and-get-some three-pointer over Bryant. He did a dribble juke, stepped back and buried the shot.
“He’s a fantastic young player, he played extremely well,” Bryant said.
Young had just 38 assists in his first 36 games this season, but aside from his defense against the Lakers, he also shared the ball. He had four assists in the fourth quarter, finding Roger Mason Jr. on back-to-back three pointers that gave the Wizards an 87-83 lead. He late fed Kevin Seraphin for a hook shot and a short jumper that helped the Wizards hold onto the lead.
After piling up some stats in garbage time against the Golden State Warriors two nights before, Young played his most well-rounded game of the season, as he also had two steals and a blocked shot.
“Six assists. We haven’t seen that,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I don’t know, maybe just the continuation of film, watching, seeing, showing him how guys are going to play him because he is a scorer. Sometimes Nick, as any scorer, tries to make it happen right away when they’re trying to trap you, and you throw it to somebody else and we score.”
The Wizards actually needed someone to play the role of setup man in the second half, with John Wall having his first bad game in weeks. Wall was also in an unusual funk, failing to score until he flushed a left-handed dunk with 3:18 left in the third quarter. He also committed five turnovers. He threw a pass behind Andray Blatche on a fast break that went into the front row of the Wizards bench. He also dribbled the ball off his foot twice and helplessly lifted his hands after he kicked the ball to Lakers point guard Derek Fisher.
“We knew we was in a little slump and we had to pick our teammates up,” Young said. “It’s just a great time out there. My first time, ever, beating the Lakers. I looked up, seen we was down three. How’d we come back that fast? We just stayed with it. [Trevor Booker] was playing great. Kevin was knocking down shots and we was playing great as a team.”