Will Pau Gasol's improved Game 3 performance offset big picture concerns?
With the shot clock winding down, Lakers forward Pau Gasol had no other choice but to step out of his comfort zone.
He had spent most of the game trying to stay aggressive and create a rhythm so that he could shake his playoff funk, and it seemed likely that hoisting a three-pointer would do little to change that.
Except it did.
His second career playoff three-pointer with 10:52 remaining in the fourth quarter provided the momentum he needed to finish with a 17-point, 10-rebound effort in the Lakers' 100-86 Game 3 victory Friday over the New Orleans Hornets, a huge improvement from the eight points and 5.5 rebounds he'd averaged -- as well as his four-of-19 (21%) shooting clip -- through the first two games.
But it did. After pumping his fist in delight following the three-pointer, Gasol grabbed a rebound off a missed shot and converted on the put-back, prompting him to scowl. It provided a perfect image to what pointed to Gasol's increased aggressiveness and confidence, and could, perhaps, prove a turning point to even better performances, beginning Sunday when the Lakers play Game 4 at New Orleans Arena.
It's far too early to say whether that will happen because this is what Gasol was supposed to be providing in Games 1 and 2 against an undersized team, especially since he averaged 22.2 points on 70.5% shooting in four regular-season victories against the Hornets. New Orleans also lacks David West because of a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury, Emeka Okafor has never matched up well with Andrew Bynum and Carl Landry's consistency against the Lakers should've been manageable. Instead, aggressive defense from Landry and reserve center Aaron Gray proved overwhelming for Gasol, even in the first half of Game 3, when he finished with only four points and four rebounds.
Even though he attacked down low more in the second half, finishing with 10 third-quarter points, New Orleans' front line doesn't provide a good barometer on what Gasol might face against future playoff opponents. The likes of Portland's Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge, Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka or Miami's Chris Bosh would prove much tougher than the matchups Gasol has faced thus far. There's no discounting how Gasol's inside presence and basketball IQ have spurred the Lakers to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two consecutive NBA championships, but his improved effort in Game 3 shouldn't be seen as a turning point yet. Gasol still has more work to do to prove it isn't a fluke.
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Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol is triple teamed by New Orleans center DJ Mbenga (28), guard Willie Green (33) and power forward Carl Landry (24) during Game 3 on Friday night at New Orleans Arena. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / April 22, 2011.