By now you’ve probably seen or heard that Pau Gasol didn’t have a very good game yesterday. The Laker forward was just 2-9 from the floor and scored just eight points. His contributions elsewhere were minimal as well: six assists and six rebounds. For someone that is supposed to be the second best player on a team favored to win their third straight championship that isn’t going to get the job done. And the Lakers leader isn’t happy about it.
When asked during post-game interviews how he felt about Gasol and the effort he put forth Bryant was candid.
“If the effort isn’t there,” stated Bryant, “I’m not going to sit around and wait, especially in the playoffs.”
In other words – step it up, Pau. While a loss should never be blamed fully on one player, and yesterday is no exception, there is no doubt that the majority of the blame has to fall on Gasol’s broad, Spanish shoulders. The history of Gasol’s lack of toughness is well documented, and quite honestly played out. Still, the Lakers cannot expect to win a series, not to mention a championship, with their second best player being physically dominated by Aaron Gray and Carl Landry. I mean no disrespect to either Gray or Landry, but a man with the talents that Gasol possesses should be able to handle his business against a frontline with that lack of size.
While Gasol’s numbers are certainly telling, the story becomes even more perplexing when you look at the points in the paint. New Orleans started the game with Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry at the center and power forward positions, respectively. Okafor is 6’10” while Landry stands at 6’9″. Gasol and his front-court teammate Andrew Bynum are both 7’0″. Yet, mysteriously, the Hornets outscored Los Angeles in the paint 53-34 in the paint. While Bynum deserves some blame here as well, he spent only 26 minutes on the court due to foul trouble. Gasol played 38 minutes, and was a swinging door on defense.
So, for someone who isn’t naturally aggressive – and we can all admit that Gasol isn’t – how does he get himself more involved in the game? It’s simple, really. He has to want it. He has to demand it.
Watch any game where the Lakers go through a period of struggle (pretty much any game will work) and look what happens if Bryant doesn’t get the ball for several possessions. He will scream, yell, holler and do whatever else he can to get the attention of his teammates. And you better believe that when he does they give him the ball. Why? Because Bryant knows that his team has a better chance to win when he has the ball.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Gasol. Yesterday proved it more than anything. The Lakers need Pau Gasol to win. They can’t have performances like Game 1 if they expect to advance far into the playoffs. And this doesn’t mean he has to play perfect. Nobody does. But regardless, he needs to go down swinging. He can’t quietly let the game pass him by if he isn’t shooting a high percentage. We’ve all seen the crazed look on his face when he’s into the action. That is the Pau Gasol that the Lakers need if they want to be playing meaningful basketball in June.
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