It might have seemed like deja vu for Pau Gasol—benched for the entire fourth quarter of a winnable game.
Gasol had only himself to blame—he basically averaged one field goal per quarter up to that point. Six points won’t get the job done.
To be fair, the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting center has been playing hurt, including a sore ankle that will need an MRI.
The Portland Trail Blazers came into Staples Center Sunday night riding a hot streak—winning eight of their past 10 games. By game's end they’d added one more—holding off a furious Lakers run. The Blazers won, 114-108.
For Gasol, it seemed strangely reminiscent of last season—a time of injuries, turmoil and generally disappointing play. Last season, Gasol sat while Dwight Howard played. Sunday night, he sat while Robert Sacre played. The backup big man was probably in there primarily for his defense.
There are times when it’s not good to be the soulful Spaniard, and this would be one. This wasn’t a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. With Kobe Bryant still out of action, Gasol has been getting all the minutes and touches he wants. In fact, he’s the team’s leading scorer.
As of Sunday night’s loss, that particular stat is in serious danger—Gasol's leading the pack with 14.3 points per game, while Nick Young has 14.2. So where did it all go wrong?
For one thing, there could be the small matter of a pinkie problem.
In truth, the loss can’t be laid just at Gasol’s feet. Mike D’Antoni looked aggravated as he pulled Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and Wesley Johnson out as well during the second quarter. With Jodie Meeks as the only starter on the floor, the bench mob got to work.
By halftime, the score was a very manageable 53-50. And then came the third quarter, an abomination at 41-24. That was enough for D’Antoni—it was back to the bench with Xavier Henry running the point.
Henry wound up with a team-high 27 points. Nick Young scored 17, and Sacre added 12.
So was it really a return to last year’s benchings, when D’Antoni was trying to sort out rotations as well as the priority of keeping Dwight Howard happy and engaged? Not likely. Howard’s gone, and Gasol seemed to take Sunday night in stride.
Per Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles, Gasol elaborated after the game about the fourth-quarter substitution:
Robert was playing really well and the unit that was out there was pretty well and we know that Mike [D'Antoni] likes to stick with units that are functioning and making runs, Gasol said. I wasn't upset because we were making a big run and I wasn't having a particularly good night.
At the end of the night, it was another loss and some bumps and bruises, and if there’s any kind of silver lining at all, it’s that the Lakers’ bench is deep enough to make a run at Portland. And make a run they did—outscoring the Trail Blazers 34-20 in the fourth quarter. It was close but no cigar.
The Lakers have four days of rest before visiting Sacramento on Friday. Hopefully, Pau will have a better night.