Kendrick Perkins' comments about Pau Gasol will likely motivate him in Lakers-Thunder game
A postgame ritual for Lakers forward Pau Gasol usually entails unwinding over a relaxing dinner.
Here's to guessing Gasol's postgame plans following the Lakers-Oklahoma City game Sunday at Staples Center won't include Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who expressed his disdain for Gasol by rehashing an old and tired stereotype: "Pau is soft."
"No," Gasol said. "Absolutely not."
When Gasol enjoys his postgame meal Sunday, it'll hopefully include replaying how he proved again that he's able to stay resilient against physical play, his finesse moves in the lane and the post proved more effective than Perkins' enforcer-style game and that the Lakers ended their four-game losing streak.
Gasol might insist comments questioning his toughness don't bother him, whether it's claiming opponents are "jealous" of his two NBA championships or arguing Lakers Coach Phil Jackson "says things for his own amusement" whenever the coach decides to needle him. But his on-court demeanor the last few seasons have suggested otherwise. It's mostly been for the good.
His defensive work in the 2009 NBA Finals against Dwight Howard proved he was far more muscular than the lanky Spaniard the Celtics pushed around in the previous Finals. His aggressiveness in the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston proved that stereotype had long passed. When Lakers guard Kobe Bryant approached Gasol in February and told him he needed to be more aggressive by demanding the ball, making sharper cuts and remaining engaged in hustle plays, Gasol responded by scoring at least 20 points in five of the first six games in February, notching three double-doubles and shooting better than 50% in all six games. As Bryant said at the time, "he has an aggressiveness switch, where, depending on the circumstance and pressure of the game, he becomes more assertive and more aggressive."
It's safe to say Perkins' comments will turn Gasol's aggressiveness switch to the on position.
"Certain players talk too much, from my perspective," Gasol said. "They should worry about their own stuff. But you can’t control what other players do or what people do. So it’s a tough opponent. We know that. They’ve gotten better. We want to beat them. If we can beat them up, even better."
This should be a good thing for the Lakers, considering Gasol's four-of-11 effort in the Lakers' 93-86 loss Friday to Portland pointed to a combination of the team going away from him coupled with his lack of aggressiveness. It's no coincidence Gasol spent extra time following Saturday's practice with Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person going over post moves. And based on the Lakers' defense of Gasol, ranging from Ron Artest flexing his muscles to Lamar Odom challenging anyone to find a forward who has better footwork and back-to-the-basket moves, it's safe to say Gasol's teammates have his back.
“Well if they don’t, they are going to get pounded,” Jackson said. “Oklahoma City plays hard.”
Gasol needs to display his aggressiveness the right way, though. By no means will Gasol suddenly become an enforcer. But there were instances last season where his desire to prove he's not a soft player proved counterproductive. After the Lakers' embarrassing 98-83 loss to Charlotte on March 5 of last season, Jackson had Gasol meet with former Knicks forward Charles Oakley, who knew a thing or two about playing physical. Gasol then came out the next week against Orlando and let frustrations get the best of him. After Orlando center Dwight Howard tugged at Gasol's jersey, Gasol responded on the other end by hitting Howard's head on a dunk, good enough for a flagrant foul. A week later, Gasol committed a hard foul on then Phoenix backup center Louis Amundson, a play Gasol admitted afterward should've been a flagrant foul.
Although this sequence has little to do with toughness, Jackson's anecdote to The Times' T.J. Simers last season about Gasol's reaction to the coach saying he had trouble posting up New Orleans center Emeka Okafor highlights Gasol's mind-set in a nutshell. "So Pau scores the first 14 points in the game," Jackson said at the time. "And five of the seven times he scores, he looks over to the bench. I told him later he doesn't have to look, ‘you know how to motivate yourself.' "
Credit Gasol for not trying to fundamentally change his finesse game into that of an enforcer. But there's enough evidence to show he sometimes steps out of his element, even if it's for a play or two. Perkins will certainly test Gasol and may even try goading him the way Denver center Nene did last week when it almost sparked an altercation. It'll be on Gasol to make sure he stands up for himself without overreacting.
"Certain guys have the right to speak," Gasol said. "You stop them from doing that, I guess. It is what it is. You just have to go out there and it’s a game we want to win tomorrow against a tough opponent. Aside from individuals and that guy, it doesn’t matter."
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Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol makes sure Boston center Kendrick Perkins doesn't get free for a shot as he fouls him in the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 10, 2010