Games like the Los Angeles Lakers' victory over the Utah Jazz serve as a reminder why forward Pau Gasol is such an integral piece of the Lakers' rotation and a legitimate second option behind Kobe Bryant.
Gasol has had to endure constant criticism for his lack of toughness, and the team of analysts covering the game last night made the issue a point of emphasis, as they equated Gasol's love of the opera to his soft nature.
Say what you will about Gasol, but last night's near triple-double, which included 14 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists, is an example of the type of impact he brings to the Lakers and proof positive of his importance to a repeat.
On a night when Bryant couldn't seem to find the rim, Gasol managed to dominate the game, while not standing out in any particular area, but contributing in nearly every facet of the game.
He acted as a facilitator by getting his teammates involved from the post, he played solid defense, and he was a terror on the defensive boards. He was also able to use the range on his jump shot to open up room in the paint.
It was a great all-around performance from a great player, who may be unfairly criticized due to the finesse nature of his game, which really translates to the rest of his team.
Even coach Phil Jackson felt the need to chime in. When told Gasol had responded to a reporter about his toughness by saying he was "very, very, tough," Jackson said he would delete a couple of the verys.
So you get the picture. But as much as anyone may want to make jokes concerning Gasol's toughness, passion, or desire, what he means to the Lakers if they hope to repeat is no laughing matter.
Even more than Kobe, the destiny of the Lakers may lie in Gasol's hands because of the diversity of his game and as the Lakers' primary scoring threat from the post.
When Gasol is fully involved in the Laker scheme, the team is at its best, and outside of Bryant, Gasol probably understands the intricacies of the triangle offense better than anyone else.
His cerebral approach is a perfect match for Bryant's, and the chemistry the two have developed has elevated them to arguably the NBA's best perimeter-post combination.
Furthermore, the postseason proof is in the pudding, because the Lakers have had the privilege of competing in the last two NBA finals, after failing to get out of the first round the previous three tries.
Gasol used his man-handling at the expense of the Boston Celtics in the 2008 finals as motivation for the next season, and he fared far better against Dwight Howard in the 2009 finals.
In that series, Gasol refused to be pushed around, and he played admirable defense on Howard, who may be the most physically imposing post presence in the entire NBA.
He came through that series as a champion, but is now forced to face the same familiar questions about his resolve, and some even say he will likely fold in the postseason.
I wouldn't count on that, because Gasol has championship experience in the NBA and his native Spain, and he has been able to excel regardless of the stage or competition.
The question as to whether or not Gasol has the will to survive a physical postseason has already been answered by his past performances, and people expecting anything otherwise will likely be disappointed.
Gasol has the talent and the game to help Los Angeles once again reach the NBA finals in 2010, and if the Lakers make the finals ,he will have an opportunity to remind everyone of his toughness.
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