Nick Young’s 10-year NBA career has been defined largely by his lack of seriousness. In a league where competitiveness and the harsh realities of big business often turn a child’s game into a job, Young projects the belief that his continued employment is a sort of cosmic joke. That’s not to say that he doesn’t care to keep his roster spot or work on his game. Rather, Young’s chief priorities seem to be having a good time on the court and maintaining a lavish lifestyle. That’s fine, but it’s not exactly why parents tell their kids to work hard.
It’s odd, then, that Young has been something like a fun-house mirror version of a veteran presence for the 2016-17 Los Angeles Lakers. After several inconsistent seasons as a backup to Kobe Bryant, Young has entered the starting lineup, shot a respectable clip on three-pointers, and even taken up an unexpected role as a primary perimeter defender late in games. Young is still clearly himself, but he has succeeded in ways that once seemed impossible. It’s inspirational, in a way, though clearly not a model for anyone else to follow.
Young’s bounce-back season reached a new peak in Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. With 13 seconds remaining, OKC center Steven Adams grabbed a rebound off a Russell Westbrook miss and dunked to give his team a 109-108 lead. The Lakers’ final play appeared to be heading towards Lou Williams for a chance to tie or take the lead, but Young stole a Brandon Ingram pass that was clearly not intended for him and knocked down a huge three-pointer:
Westbrook missed a very tough three on the final possession to finalize the 111-109 result.
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Young did not try to explain away his steal after the game:
"I just felt like I wanted to take the shot, man," Nick Young said. pic.twitter.com/NsS0JmqkP3
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) November 23, 2016
He had no comment on the apparent travel, but no one should have expected one. (Plus, do you really want your Nick Young game-winners to be completely legal?)
The shot was the capper to a fine game for Young, who finished with 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting from deep. He also nailed this improbable buzzer-beater to end the first half:
It wasn’t a normal or even replicable performance, but it’s hard to deny that Young got the job done. He’s not a player who will ever set a new standard of dependability, but Young is playing well enough to become a trusted part of the Lakers moving forward. Each game makes the surprising Lakers look more legitimate, and Young has been an important part of their success.
However, the story of Tuesday’s game was nearly much different. Down 97-83 with 6:45 remaining in regulation, the Thunder battled back to an incredible performance from Westbrook. He scored or assisted on 24-straight OKC points up until Adams’s go-ahead basket, essentially turning the contest by sheer force of will. This was a classic Westbrook performance, full of intense drives to the basket and attempts to score on several defenders at once. There were also plenty of mistakes, including an air-balled runner and an unconvincing try at drawing a foul on a three-point attempt. As always, the good and bad were inseparable. The great thrill of Westbrook is that he can careen from the fantastic to the frustrating in the same possession.
Both teams travel north for Wednesday games, with the Lakers visiting the Golden State Warriors and the Thunder continuing their road trip against the Sacramento Kings. Do not be surprised if we have reason to write about them again.
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