Pau Gasol Prevails With Toughness, a Catalyst to the Lakers

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IMay 1, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY - APRIL 22: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers huddles with his teammates before taking the court after a timeout against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs on April 22, 2010 at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The Thunder beat the Lakers 101-96.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

It’s the equivalent of perplexing drama and craftiness the Los Angeles Lakers expose on a large population in Hollywood, among a postseason of uncertainty and unpredictability. At times, it’s really mind-blowing to figure out a ravishing franchise representing Hollywood, with its symbolic convention of inheriting multiple championship banners and assembling the deepest and most talented cast.

For once, the up and down commodity plunged in a critical Game Six against the emerging Oklahoma City Thunder, tapering dismay and startling insights of deflating in perhaps the most disappointing upset in NBA history.

It was a paradigm of survival, when the seven-foot forward named Pau Gasol lifted the Lakers to a jittery, tense 95-94 win to salvage the best-of-seven series in six games of the first-round playoff series. A few years ago, the town waited for his softness to vanish, and criticized Gasol of laziness and failures on dominating inside the middle with his immeasurable size advantage.

Finally in an acute game, the Spaniard exerted his height advantage and fiercely drove to the rim on Kobe Bryant’s missed jumper and tipped in the poor attempt, then pumped his fist and celebrated in bliss.

At a hostile territory, the crowd erupted and tried to corrode the defending champs of momentum and rhythm. The crowd serenaded “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!" That was until, of course, the Lakers perpetuated a late rally to silence 18,342 fans in attendance, wearing blue T-shirts and bracing the home team believing in the near-improbable.

In a sense, Gasol won it, with his mental toughness and willpower to impress in a fiercely approach. To his advantage, he had the oversized strength and height, grabbing 18 rebounds to bolster struggling shooting. All of the sudden the Lakers were reestablished as a villainous franchise, with his toughness and fortitude.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

It was a crazy series and an eye-opener when the Lakers were hit with a wake up call in a horrendous rout of Game Four. When the Lakers were humiliated and pushed around horribly by the inexperienced and eighth-seeded Thunder, Los Angeles was battered and taunted of an uncaring and dreadful romp.

Turns out, they were as laughable as Saturday Night Live or Jay Leno, and weren’t capable of repeating triumph in a season the Lakers are talented and experienced to win back-to-back titles. It figured that Bryant had to make shots and pose as a team leader, but his injuries remind us that he’s not as relevant as he was three years ago when he was an integral piece to the Lakers offensive philosophy.

But the town is obviously accustomed to witnessing a dramatic, thrilling performance. He normally thrives with his creativity and ineffectual shooting, a rarity seen frequently these days in a league competition is well-balanced and has massive attributes assessable for defending a versatile and crafty guard as dazzling as Kobe.

Kobe hasn't been showing the great citizens of Los Angeles his Game Face. He hasn’t revealed the most hideous facial expression in sports. He hasn’t been the bad guy wearing a scowl.

Yet, we cannot expect much from an ailing Kobe. Lately, he has barely lasted an entire game without grimacing in pain and is aging each day, needing contributions out of teammates. The state of the Lakers recently is that Gasol has surmounted above infirmities, resuscitating his level of consistency and elevating his post game presence.

The need for his effortless rebounding and inside shots are immense if the Lakers wish to contend and win another title. Friday night signified that Gasol’s intensity is greatly needed and a factor in the upcoming series. Without him, the Lakers chances of winning are unlikely and they are vulnerable of losing in the second-round or Western Conference Finals. Ever seen Gasol charged the lane with much determination and courage, which resulted in a game winning tip in? I haven’t.

He knocked the ball into the basket, as Bryant and Russell Westbrook were in a physical, uptight battle on the baseline. As much was at stake, it turned into the Lakers favor when he heightened his mental capabilities and played with competitiveness, urging all people that he’s a counterbalance to his opponent and amends woes.

To declare Gasol as a hero is a hopeful turnaround within a franchise, withstanding up and down misfortunes. If he limits the jumpers or improves shooting it from mid-range, he’ll draw defenders to spread the floor. And if so, it opens the lanes of which Kobe wouldn’t have such difficultly on nearly each possession at taking the ball to the rim.

Certainly, he’ll be awarded free throws by implementing initiated contact. In the postseason, Kobe has shown signs of troubling pain, debilitated and bothered with an assortment of injuries. What’s fascinating is that he has played in a myriad of games. He’s a unique brand, the one superstar willing to endure a broken right index finger and a left ankle sprain.

Already in his career, he denied to sit out postseason games while he was treated for awful back spasms. Maybe he’s unhealthy and not robust enough to lead all scorers with 40-plus games. And maybe Gasol has broken out at the right time, becoming a second option on a team that definitely requires more assists from a valuable starting five. How about asking Thunder coach Scott Brooks.          

“Unfortunately, Gasol was in the right place at the right time,” said Brooks. “The ball went right to his hands. It was lucky, but he put himself in that position. He attacked the offensive glass and we didn’t do a good job putting a body on him. We had four guys in the lane, and we should have.”

Yes! But it’s a bit too late.

Most of all, the Lakers advanced to the conference semifinals, knowing it must attack the Utah Jazz with intensity and earnest. Better yet, they cannot afford to witness similarities of the Thunder series, which their four victories in six games brought forth numerous questions about whether even the Lakers are championship destined. It's always important to uplift momentum and optimism, especially when the Jazz are a tougher ouster and expected to challenge their every step in Game One Sunday.

Earlier in the series, the Lakers were flat and soft, underestimating a developing franchise. Tied at 2, the Lakers realized the postseason takes heart and cohesiveness.

Soon enough, they’ll face the hottest point guard in the league in Deron Williams, who cannot be denied in most situations, but only contained and trapped to where he’s forced to launch the outside shot, an attempt he usually buries because of his lethal shot making from beyond the arch.

Then, a tough assignment would be guarding Carlos Boozer, a post-presence forward who’ll draw Gasol. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but will also be a factor on defense and more so offensively.

But he wasn’t essential to the Lakers, until he tipped in a game-winning layup with five-tenths of a second left following an offensive rebound. On a poor shooting night, he missed seven of his first 10 shots and each were open looks. Still, he earns the nod. For now, critics need to quiet down and praise Gasol for his dominance and impact of changing the dynamics on one final possession.

If there’s any pride, its Gasol’s tip in.

He’s a catalyst to an elimination win. And trust me, his presence is acute.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.