SAN ANTONIO -- Nick Young is all jokes, all the time. But Friday, after playing the surprise role of hero in an overtime win here against the San Antonio Spurs, the quirky Los Angeles Lakers guard turned his cartoonish personality all the way up.
Exhibit A, referencing his remarkable, go-ahead 30-footer with 7.4 seconds left in a 112-110 victory, a highly contested prayer of a heave that turned AT&T Center silent:
“Once it left my hand, I kind of knew it was cash,” Young said. “I’m like, 'I don’t miss.' That’s my new name -- 'I.D.M.' Call me 'I.D.M.' You feel me?”
Exhibit B, referencing his game- and season-high 29 points off the bench on 9-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range:
“Man, you know, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do when I’ve got to do it,” Young said. “So basically, I’m just doing what I’ve got to do every time that I step on the court to do what I’ve got to do. You feel me?”
Then Young offered more not-so-veiled remarks -- hard truths and backhanded compliments, if you will, that made it once again difficult to tell when exactly he's joking and when he isn't.
Such as here:
“I’m glad I had a chance to hit a game winner with somebody like Kobe [Bryant] on the floor, who normally has the ball in his hands all the time,” Young said.
Or here, when he nodded to Bryant’s chase of Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list (Bryant stood 31 points shy of passing Jordan entering Friday):
“No offense to Kobe, but I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much [Friday]," Young said. “I thought he was going to break that record -- at least get 40 or 50 [points]. With all the cameras that were around, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much.”
Young, known as "Swaggy P," in a nationally televised game indeed stole the spotlight away from Bryant, who many expected would gun for Jordan’s record. Instead, Bryant shot 7-of-22 from the field and scored 22 points, leaving him nine shy of passing Jordan’s total (32,292).
“It’s going to come,” Bryant said of the milestone.
But the fun-loving Young also touched on Bryant's trash-talking tirade in practice Thursday, when Bryant called his teammates “soft,” comparing them to Charmin toilet paper, among other things.
“When I’m out there, I don’t play like Charmin,” Young said. “I like Scott Tissue. It’s a little rougher.”
Guard Jeremy Lin made similar remarks after his 14-point, eight-assist performance off the bench, saying, “I thought we played pretty hard for a team full of toilet paper.”
Bryant defended his actions.
“We can all criticize my style of leadership all day long,” Bryant said. “We really can. We can sit there and it’s uncomfortable, whatever you want to say, but I’ve been doing that since high school, and we play this game to win championships and I have five of them.”
Let the record show that Young backed Bryant’s outburst.
“I think we had a good vibe coming off [Thursday’s practice],” Young said. “We all got into it with each other, and I think we need that more. It builds character, it builds chemistry, when you’re fighting amongst each other and able to brush it off and still talk and still have fun with each other.”
During that practice, Young told Bryant, “Nobody in the world can guard me one-on-one” -- and it sure seemed like it at times Friday.
“It’s hard to guard somebody like myself,” Young said. “It’s tough.”
And late in the contest, Young decided to take over, knowing that Bryant was winded.
“I said, 'Take a break, little man; you’re kind of tired.'” Young said. “He was playing point guard. He was huffing and puffing. I was like, 'I got this brother.'”
In the locker room, Young treated postgame interviews like a championship celebration -- or as if he’d just won an Academy Award.
He dished out thank-yous left and right.
“Shout-out to Booz [Carlos Boozer],” Young began, “for saying, ‘Hole that!’ For having confidence in me.
“Shout-out to my man Jordan Hill for setting a nice screen.
“Shout-out to my man Wes [Johnson] for believing in me and telling me I could make it.
“Shout-out to J.C. [Jordan Clarkson] for cheering me on. I couldn’t do it without y’all guys, man. Thank y’all.”
There are always jokes with Young. Lots of jokes. Sometimes, they come so often, it's hard to tell when he's actually serious, but he seemed plenty serious during Friday's improbable Lakers win, their best of the season by far.
In hostile environs, he was anything but soft, and he backed up his bold claims made a day before, when Bryant pushed him and his Lakers teammates to the edge, testing them.
Indeed, as Young bragged then, there wasn't anyone who could guard him.
And a day later, he proved that, at least for a night, he wasn't kidding around, either.