December 26, 2013 by Russell Simon
“Swagy P is oh-for-4 so far. The P doesn’t stand for ‘Pass’, I’ll tell you that much!”- NBA broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy on Nick Young.
It’s been a long time since “swag” has been a part of the collective vocabulary of America’s youth. The term, which is “an overused word to describe one’s self as being ‘cool’ in presented appearance such as clothing or other things,” according to Urban Dictionary, peaked in 2009. This was when Soulja Boy dominated the Bar Mitzvah circuit with the release of his cult hit “Turn My Swag On,” which became the anthem of an adoring nation full of backwards hat-wearing, jeans-sagging, iPod Touch-carrying teens. But “swag” and its variants did not hit its cultural peak four years ago. It happened yesterday, in the third quarter of the Lakers-Heat game on Christmas Day. It happened when Lakers guard and former USC Trojan Nick “Swagy P” Young went toe-to-toe with NBA superstar LeBron James, and gave us all reason to believe again.
It was shaping up to be a gloomy Christmas for NBA fans. The Thunder had demolished the hapless Knicks 123-94 and the Taj Gibson-led Bulls beat the Jason Kidd-coached Brooklyn Nets 95-78. A day typically filled with marquee matchups had instead turned into a day of ugliness, featuring bizarre monochromatic, skin-tight jerseys worn by players not named Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, or Kobe Bryant, all three sidelined by injuries. However, from the minute Nick Young entered Staples Center, everyone knew the third game of the NBA’s quintuple-header would be different.
Swagy P entered wearing not just a Christmas sweater but also a Christmas shawl, to better protect himself from the brutal 80-degree Los Angeles winters. He then went out and had an all-too-common Nick Young first half, going 1-of-8 from the field with 3 points. Yet, the Lakers only trailed by five at the half. Somehow, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry were keeping the Lakers close with the vaunted Miami Heat. Then came the third quarter.
It began with 5:40 left in the third. Young took the ball on the right wing, stared down LeBron, took him off the dribble, got to the rim and hit a layup while being fouled. This cut the Heat lead to six, but Swagy P was not finished.
The next time down court he topped himself, staring down LeBron again, pulling up for a three in his face, hitting it and drawing the foul on James yet again. Nick Young 2, Lebron James 0. Tie game. The Staples Center crowd was alive, and the man who used to dazzle Galen Center crowds had brought the Lakers back.
But the weirdest part of the Miracle on Figueroa Street was that it did not end after Young hit his free throw to complete the four-point play. The Heat went into full attack mode on defense. LeBron used his entire wingspan to stick his arms right in Swagy P’s face, he got low to the floor and tried to intimidate Young just as he typically does when he plays defense. And Young just kept hitting shots. With 4:23 to go in the third, he spun off LeBron on the right wing and hit a turn-around floater over Chris Bosh. Then it was time for the Pièce de résistance, when Young hit a deep fadeaway three over LeBron’s outstretched fingertips with nine seconds left in the third. Lebron tried to respond with a three of his own over Young, but he missed. Heat 76, Lakers 74.
Young would finish the game with twenty points on 7-of-18 shooting. He went 4-of-7 from behind the arc, but ended up with a pedestrian shot chart.
But while his end statistics may have been somewhat normal as the Lakers lost, that third quarter was anything but. In taking arguably the best player in the world 1-on-1 and winning, at least for 5 minutes, Swagy P made all NBA fans believers. They believed that Nick Young could take the Heat by himself if that is what it took. They believed he could beat LeBron off the dribble, shoot over LeBron from behind the arc, and become an efficient scorer for a Lakers team in desperate need of more offensive options. It seemed credible that the shorthanded Lakers would complete their miracle comeback against James and the Heat. In the third quarter people believed in Nick Young. They believed, again, in swag.