NBA Playoffs 2011: Pau Gasol and the Reasons the Lakers Are Home Early
For the first time in 12 years, the Lakers have been swept out of the postseason. For the first time in four years, they won't be playing in June, and now they face an uncertain future without head coach Phil Jackson, who reiterated that he coached his last game after the Lakers' 36-point, series-ending loss.
Over the next few days, there will be plenty of finger pointing as Laker fans play the blame game to figure out how their dreams of another three-peat ended in a barrage of Dallas three-pointers.
Here are the main players that deservedly earned their fair share of criticism in the second round, starting with the Lakers' invisible All-Star.
1. Pau Gasol
There’s no bigger scapegoat for the Lakers than Pau Gasol, also known as El Hombre Invisible (Invisible Man for my non-Spanish speaking readers). If you can pick one player who didn’t show up against Dallas, it was Gasol, who averaged a mere 12.5 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field.
While Dallas did very well limiting the Lakers’ bigs, you still expect an All-Star to find a way to score and contribute. Too often, Gasol disappeared into the player that faded against the Boston Celtics in past years and not someone hailed as the best power forward in the NBA.
You could tell that mentally, he wanted no part of Tyson Chandler, and he continually got abused by Dirk Nowitzki.
How bad did Gasol play during the series? So bad that Phil Jackson had to physically try to inspire him by tapping him in two separate timeouts during Game 3. If you're making one of the most even-keeled coaches so frustrated with your play that he lays hands on you, you're stinking up the court bad.
At one point during Game 4, Gasol pleaded with his teammates to keep fighting while having a look of despair on his face. That’s not leadership, that’s the sign of a player who wants support without carrying his load.
Let’s face it, Gasol’s legacy took the biggest hit in this series.
2. The Lakers Bench
Shannon Brown. Steve Blake. Matt Barnes. The Killer B’s who supported Lamar Odom all season as the second unit barely made a buzz against Dallas and their speedy combo of Jason Terry and JJ Barea. That picture says it all as Blake and Co. were often several steps behind Terry on the perimeter.
The Dallas bench outscored the Lakers bench by a wide margin of 198-89. Breaking it down further, Brown, Blake and Barnes' combined point total barely outscored Peja Stojakovic by only eight points.
Jason Terry’s 32 points in Game 4 nearly equaled Brown’s total for the series (37). If you throw in Odom, the bench was 6-for-33 (18 percent) on three-pointers. By comparison, Terry hit six threes in the first half of Game 4.
The Bench Mob went out with a whimper as they were too old and inconsistent against the firepower of the Dallas bench. They gave the Lakers a lack of depth and for one of the oldest teams in the league, they failed to provide any type of spark in a series where they needed it most.
3. Derek Fisher
Fisher has usually come alive with timely playoff moments for the Lakers, but this series, all the mutterings about him being old and slow on defense got as loud as they’ve been.
Along with Steve Blake, he couldn’t close out on Jason Terry getting open for easy shots. He couldn’t score enough from the perimeter to give Kobe Bryant enough help outside of an occasional three-pointer.
It’s further proof that Fisher’s value is more locker room leadership and steadiness than on-court production.
This spot should be reserved for the Laker guards as a whole because their perimeter defense may have been the worst out of any team in the second round. In the final three games, they allowed JJ Barea to run free and attack the lanes as if he were wearing purple and gold.
They also allowed the Mavericks to achieve several playoff records from beyond the arc during the series, including their 20 threes in Game 4.
Fisher may be revered for his years of postseason magic but this series, his lack of magic and declining skills were part of the reason the Lakers season is done.
4. Ron Artest
Artest scored in double figures in both Game 2 and 4 but aside from Gasol, he was the quietest starter on the floor. Unless you count his late game foul on JJ Barea that got him suspended for Game 3.
That decision didn’t cost the Lakers the series, but it robbed them of a chance to establish momentum in Game 3. His blown fastbreak opportunity in Game 4 will no doubt have folks laughing, but it just showed that Artest will be more likely remembered for his mistakes than his contributions.
It’s disappointing after his excellent play against New Orleans and his solid defense on Shawn Marion in the second round. But as the case with Artest, just enough isn’t enough, and it feels like there’s more he could’ve done to make an impact in the series. Instead he’ll be remembered for his gaffes.
5. Dirk Nowitzki
As Lakers fans point fingers at various players, you can also blame Dirk Nowitzki for stepping up in one of the defining moments of his career. No matter who the Lakers threw at him (Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum), he scored at will with remarkable efficiency.
Nowitzki averaged 25.3 points on 57 percent shooting, but more than the numbers, he hit big shots when his team needed it. In Game 3, he led the Mavericks’ fourth quarter charge with his scoring and decision making.
He was virtually unguardable and used the Lakers as his case for shedding the soft label that has dogged him for the past five years.
If Chris Paul softened the Lakers up in the first round, Dirk Nowitzki landed the knockout blows that ended their season. He deserves his share of blame (credit?) as much as anybody on the Lakers squad.