Pau Gasol's postseason play largely led to Lakers' demise
"Come on!" Pau Gasol yelled to no one in particular in the waning minutes of the Lakers' 122-86 Game 4 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The moment captured Gasol's ineffective playoff push in so many ways. He continuously talked about his need to be aggressive, remain calm and to elevate his play. But rarely did he ever back up those intentions on the court, delivering with the same tepidness as he yelled for his teammates to pick up the intensity and the same passivity that defined his on-court play. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Gasol's 13.1 points on 42.9% shooting he averaged against the Mavericks proved the main factor in the Western Conference semifinals sweep.
The irony behind all this is Gasol had been the missing ingredient the Lakers needed to contend for a championship. Since the Lakers acquired him in February of 2008, they had appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals, won two consecutive championships and even made some believe he should've been the 2010 Finals MVP for his Game 7 effort when he posted 19 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Only a year later, Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is suggesting Gasol, who's owed $57 million over the next three years, would be a good candidate for the Lakers to trade in a deal involving Magic center Dwight Howard, rapper Snoop Dogg is questioning his manhood via Twitter and Lakers fans alike are left wondering his value to the team.
Gasol's aforementioned accolades shouldn't be forgotten during his time with the Lakers and no one should suddenly wish the club had kept Marc Gasol, who's posted better numbers than his older brother during the 2011 NBA playoffs. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society that we live in, it wouldn't be surprising should Laker fans hold him in contempt. After all, some even argue Shaquille O'Neal doesn't deserve to have his Laker jersey retired, focusing more on the stops in Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston as well as his feud with Kobe Bryant over the fact that he was the main reason the Lakers won three consecutive NBA championships. Nonetheless, even when you account for the Lakers' inconsistent play, unreliable bench, Bryant failing to elevate his game, ineffective defensive rotations and the team's failure to close out games, Gasol's poor play proves to be the largest variable that led to the Lakers' demise.
That's because Gasol's poor play created other problems that plagued the Lakers. His lack of aggressiveness and the emergence of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood neutralized the Lakers' post presence. His frustration and inattentiveness on defense made it even easier for Dirk Nowitzki to hit ridiculously hard-to-make fadeaways and contributed to the Lakers' slow reactions on rotations. And his unreliability put further strain on Kobe Bryant to produce on offense, Bynum to carry the defense and many wondering what they should do about Gasol.
The reasons were quite obvious. Everyone including Gasol acknowledged the fatigue wearing him down, an ongoing theme that dated to heavy playing time during Bynum's 24-game absence while recovering from offseason surgery. They all recognized the tentativeness. And Gasol denied Internet reports suggesting relationship problems factored into his inconsistent play.
Just as Gasol's immediate comfort with fitting into the Lakers made a noticeable difference in helping them in three consecutive NBA Finals, his sudden drop in effectiveness made a drastic difference on the Lakers' chances to win. That's why the team couldn't suddenly work around his problems, appear indifferent to him or refuse to get him involved with the team. Instead they had to find any way possible to jump-start Gasol, ranging from Bryant calling him out publicly, the team giving him extra touches, Coach Phil Jackson berating him and thumping his chest on the sideline, Bryant and Jackson providing positive reinforcement and, in desperate measure, suggest that Gasol was getting unfavorable treatment from officials. None of those tactics worked, only adding further frustration as Gasol continued to experience the same struggles in each game.
As discomforting and sorry as some had to feel seeing Gasol play at this level, none of the reasons for his sudden ineffectiveness should fly. He talked openly about the adjustments he needed to make. He acknowledged the problems affecting his psyche. And he vowed that he'd change course. But just like he did when he pleaded for a better effort as he sat on the bench with a tired and defeated look, all the gestures were just talk that he couldn't back with his play on the court.
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Top photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol takes a shot over Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd and forward Peja Stojakovic in the first half of Game 4 on Sunday afternoon in Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011
Bottom photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol unloads a pass as he's triple-teamed by Dallas defenders (from left) Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd during Game 4 on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011