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Pau For Pound: Gasol Delivers L.A. Lakers' Opening Statement

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Pau For Pound: Gasol Delivers L.A. Lakers' Opening Statement
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The insults pelted Pau Gasol more than any other Laker in 2008.

They weren't catcalls. That wasn't good-natured ribbing.

Boston fans threw rocks at the L.A. team bus as it left TD Garden. Those who questioned the Lakers' toughness threw figurative ones.

They saved the bricks and boulders for Gasol.

They assaulted his manhood and wondered if people from Spain were born without backbones.

Ductile players do not hoist championship trophies. Resoluteness wins in the NBA.

The Celtics had it, they said. Gasol and the Lakers didn't.

The final score from that Game Six beatdown haunted Hollywood's hoops squad for 12 months. The Lakers could not escape it. They could not make the pain it caused or the embarrassment it represented disappear.

131-92.

Two years later, as the Lakers and Celtics commenced Game One of the teams' 12th Finals meeting, Gasol fetched some duct tape and forced those detractors to shut the hell up.

The Lakers swatted back 131-92 in handling the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Finals. They smashed it Thursday night with a 102-89 victory. Phil Jackson has not lost a series after his team won the first match.

Now, the Celtics must contend with Jackson's 47-0 record. Doc Rivers must also cope with another sobering reality.

Gasol has properly introduced himself to the Lakers.

Hi there. I'm Pau. I know how to put the ball in the basket. Get me touches.

How the Celtics handle this news will dictate whether they can make the first dent in Jackson's record and create history.

The All-Star forward scored 23 points and hauled down 14 rebounds. He sent a message to the basketball world. Screw putting it in a bottle. He screamed it so Kevin Garnett and the stone throwers would hear every word.

Stop the fallacies. Stop the insults. Respect me. I'm Pau.

Truth is, the Celtics never manhandled the Spaniard. He shot 53 percent in the 2008 Finals and led the team in rebounding and blocked shots. He also tied Lamar Odom for most double-doubles in that postseason.

He opened a first-round series against the Denver Nuggets with this line: 36 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocked shots. He helped the Lakers clinch the conference semifinals in Salt Lake City with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

He recorded a then career-high 19 rebounds in the Western Conference capper against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

The opponents didn't stop him so much as his teammates failed to treat him like a bona fide star. When the Celtics made a defining push to take a 20-point lead in the third quarter of Game Two, guess which Laker didn't touch the ball once?

Instead, Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir "Space Cadet" Radmanovic took turns playing moron. They chucked up airhead trey after airhead trey. Bad shots became hideous heaves.

Radmanovic has long since been banished, and Vujacic acts as more of an accessory than a vital part of the machine.

After stampeding through the first three rounds, the Lakers ran into the worst kind of buzzsaw. They panicked when the blades cut through the first layer of skin. They did things unbecoming of a champion.

They denied touches to one of the world's best players, and he allowed the derangement of it all to handicap him.

Beating the Magic in five games the next season, for this Laker squad, qualified as a successful practice run.

They wanted the Celtics, they were coming for the Celtics, and no one needed this rematch more than Gasol.

All the Lakers have done since he arrived in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies is reach the Finals three straight years and win 70 percent of their games. In three seasons, the Lakers dropped three consecutive contests once.

Jackson has accomplished every feat a professional sports coach can. His record of 10 championships is safe. No sideline chief will ever wear a double figure number of rings again.

Kobe Bryant's staunchest supporters need to understand one thing. He will never be Michael Jordaneven if he wins five more titles, and even if he somehow finds an opponent willing to play the Bryon Russell role.

One of the 10 or 15 greatest to ever play? Sure. Second best ever at his position? No argument here.

Bryant and Jackson surpassed Scottie Pippen and Jackson as the all-time winningest player-coach duo in the playoffs Thursday night. So, Jackson glided past himself for another milestone.

Soon enough, the record books will have to separate the bearded version of the coach from the clean-shaven one.

Bryant derided himself for shooting 40 percent versus the Celtics in 2008, but he had already secured three titles with Shaquille O'Neal that no one could take away.

Gasol had not won any championship duels. He did not taste the second round until he wore purple and gold.

Russia suckerpunched Spain in a title bout. The United States fended off Spain in the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal Game.

His faux pas reputation stretched longer than his arms.

He chipped away at it last year in besting Dwight Howard's Magic. Welcome to the start of an obliteration.

This isn't Kobe's series to win. It's Pau's.

Bryant would still rank as an all-time great if the Lakers lost the next four games by an average of 70 points (a stretch, perhaps, but you get the point). Another Larry O'Brien Trophy would do much more for Gasol's legacy.

Win multiple titles as a consistent second option, sometimes a first, and you go from talented and important to Hall of Fame material.

Every Robin dreams of his Batman turn. Gasol didn't wear a black suit, but the way he was sending back layups Thursday night, he didn't need one.

He began the outing with all the confidence of Quasimodo. He fumbled a pass out of bounds and walked with the ball. He missed a facile defensive rotation.

Then, Gasol converted two layupson a left-handed drive and a putback. The game changed as quickly as he did.

He walked off the floor, victorious, with the furor of Godzilla.

The Lakers murdered the Celtics on the boards 41-32 and finished with a 16-0 edge in second-chance points.

Andrew Bynum and Odom crashed Boston's party with a combined 10 rebounds.

Yet, Gasol made sure the L.A. frontline's snarl began with him. In a nod to Game Four of last year's finals, he iced the outcome with a fastbreak dunk.

Ron Artest started the end-to-end action with a block on Glen Davis.

When the thumping ended, the Celtics were peeved. They hated how they played, how they failed to compete, and how they responded so poorly to the Lakers' opening jab.

Bryant, stoic and surly as ever, could not allow himself to smile, even as funnyman Chris Rock goaded him from a courtside seat. He meant business.

He offered a half-grin after one play: Gasol's breakaway dunk.

The forward had become more demonstrative, and his teammates remembered him in the heat of the battle. No one could have been happier to see the sidekick become the focal point than Bryant.

Put down the bricks and save those boulders for someone else.

Hi there. I'm Pau. Soy Pau y tengo una columna.

The Celtics were not as pleased to make his acquaintance.

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