The last time the Wizards beat the Lakers, Gilbert Arenas had 60 points in a 147-141 overtime victory that finished with a bow on the Staples Center court, and Nick Young was still at USC.
Ten games and more than five years later, Washington finally got another victory in the series. This time Young, facing his hometown team, played a crucial role in the improbable comeback from 21 points down in the third quarter that made it happen, with a team-high 19 points, two steals and a career-high six assists.
“We knew we had to come back out,” Young said two nights after the Wizards had been embarrassed by Golden State, 120-100. “We knew a lot of fans was going to be here tonight. You don’t want to keep on getting booed off your home court. It’s the Lakers. You’ve got to want to come out and play hard.”
In Young’s mind, he also played hard against the Warriors, getting 25 points for his efforts. With 22 of those coming after halftime, with zero assists, in a game that wasn’t remotely competitive, his focus on his own points was almost an insult.
But against the Lakers, Young was the spark, unsurprisingly motivated – he averages more points against Los Angeles (18.8 per game) than versus any other team in the NBA – to guard Kobe Bryant, to get his points and even play the role of facilitator.
Young missed his first 3-pointer but got on the board with a driving baseline slam. He then surprised everyone in the building when he fed Kevin Seraphin for two points in the second quarter.
But his game really got going at the end of the third, where he had nine points during a period-ending 14-2 run.
While the running joke throughout the game was that both Young (7-for-19) and Jordan Crawford (6-for-19, 14 points) had each taken more shots than Bryant (9-for-31, 30 points). But Bryant only had one field goal in the final period.
“That’s just my defense. No, I’m just playing,” Young said, grinning the whole time. “I’m just doing the best I can. 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. I went out there and gave it my all.”
Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. In the second quarter, Young found himself all alone for an easy layup or dunk but lost the ball going up, so far up that it went arcing over the backboard. Later in the third quarter Young appeared set for another baseline jam but missed short and was rejected by the front rim.
But his energy never dwindled. After just 38 assists total in the first 36 games of the season, Young racked up four in the final period, two in a row to Roger Mason Jr. (14 points) for back-to-back 3-pointers, then two more in a row to Kevin Seraphin: the first, a pass extraordinarily late in the shot clock, and the second, a calm and perfectly, if shockingly executed pick and pop.
“Six assists, we haven’t seen that,” Wizards 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. When they do, he’s got to immediately get rid of it, and then it opens up for you. Sometimes Nick, as any scorer, tries to make it happen right away.”
On Wednesday, he made it happen when it looked like the Wizards had little chance of doing anything but suffering another demoralizing defeat at the hands of what remains the league’s most glamorous team – which drew the diverse likes of Michelle Kwan, Boyd Tinsley, Biz Markie and Alex Ovechkin all to Verizon Center.
“We knew we was in a little slump and we had to pick our teammates up,” Young said. “Just a great atmosphere. You’ve got to want out and play a game like this. you’re playing against the best team. you can’t do nothing but play hard. That’s what I got to do. Make my teammates better. I’m just a complete player, you know.”
Joking aside, Young’s time in Washington is expected to end when his one-year qualifying offer contract runs out at the end of this season. No matter what happens going forward, Young will always be able to say that he beat the Lakers while he played for the Wizards.