"We just didn't seem to find traction until Shannon and Steve got in the ballgame and changed the contexture of that ballgame," Phil Jackson said afterward. "It was a great effort by those two. They gave us a big rally."
Did they ever.
With L.A. trailing by as many as 13 points at the half, and by that same margin with almost the entire third period having been wasted, Blake hit back-to-back three-pointers to end the quarter, giving the Lakers life and pulling them to within just five. Brown hit back-to-back threes of his own to cap a 28-9 Lakers run midway through the fourth, part of a personal 14-point scoring spree that undoubtedly was critical to L.A.'s success down the stretch.
Blake's threes to end the third got things started, and Shannon's big fourth helped them finish it. But Blake ultimately made the big shot, receiving a kick-out pass behind the three-point line from Kobe Bryant, with his team trailing by one and just under 19 seconds remaining on the game clock. Blake calmly drained the wide-open three, and one of the newest members of the Lakers successfully endeared himself to the team's fans in his very first contest wearing the home gold jersey at Staples Center.
"If you're going to play with guys like Kobe and Pau and Lamar, guys who create shots for you, you've got to be able to shoot with confidence," Blake said. "So that's how I'm going to play."
His confidence was huge on that final shot attempt, especially considering the fact that the man who he called the "best player in the world" passed up the shot attempt so that Blake would have a cleaner look at it.
"That was big of him to trust someone new on the court," Blake said.
It wasn't exactly a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"We had talked earlier," Blake said, when asked about how that final play between he and Bryant developed. "We had run the mid-pick-and-roll two or three times. We had talked about how [Kobe] was going to try to get in the lane and dump it to [Pau Gasol]. But at the same time he told me to kind of pull up if they suck in, and I'll be open. And that's exactly how it happened."
At this point, it may no longer be a surprise that no matter who the Lakers seem to plug in, they make plays when it matters most. But what might have been surprising was seeing Blake and Brown play all 12 minutes of the final period, when -- particularly in tight ballgames -- Phil Jackson tends to go with his starters.
Surprising to fans, maybe. But not to the players on the team.
"I think all coaches, you know, if someone's got it going, then they stick with you," Blake said. "If I really hadn't done much then I'm sure he would have put Fish back in, but when guys like myself and Shannon kind of have a rhythm going out there, I'm sure he'll leave us in like that."
Derek Fisher, who's been with Phil Jackson as long as anyone on this team, similarly stated that his coach will go with the players who are making it happen -- if those guys are capable of bringing the game across the finish line.
"I think he's always wanted to do that with every team that I've been on, as far as I could tell," Fisher said. "He's going to go with ... if the guys that are in the game are playing well -- they have rhythm out there, they're playing good defense, they're making shots -- those are the guys who are going to stay in the game more times than not. And I think as a player, you appreciate that, and it gives you the confidence that if you go in the game and you're doing some good things, then you're going to get some minutes."
Phil Jackson works in mysterious ways, and motivating his bench guys with the promise of late-game minutes if they perform well simply isn't one of them. But Brown is a true believer, and has seen his coach work like this in the past.
"I think I came out and knocked down some big shots, got some steals or whatever the case is, and he wasn't going to take me out," Brown said of his unexpected crunch time minutes. "Now if I'd have missed some shots, or whatever the case is, who knows how it would have went. But tonight, it went how it was supposed to."