Pau Gasol kicked off the European Championships Wednesday in fine fashion, hitting eight of 12 shots from the floor and getting to the line 16 times en route to 29 points as Spain edged a plucky Polish squad 83-78.
Early this morning-- those who didn't throw on a pot of coffee for the local start time of 5:15 am can be forgiven-- Gasol was again a model of efficiency. He scored another 20 points (16 in the first half) on a tidy eight-of-nine shooting, adding five rebounds and a block in a scant 19 minutes of play as the Spanish squad easily won the Battle of the Iberian Peninsula, blowing out Portugal 87-73 in a game essentially over at the break. Not that it was a particularly fair fight. In terms of roster strength, Spain is a vastly superior squad.
Checking out the replay (the games are broadcast on ESPN3.com), Pau looked like Pau. Very smooth and fundamentally sound. Face up jumpers, smooth play in the post, a nice sequence in the first quarter where he trailed penetration from the perimeter, grabbed the offensive board and without bringing the ball down-- tall kids, don't bring the ball down to the little people!-- got the putback. His decisions looked decisive, the mobility was good. Like I said, he looked like Pau.
As Andy pointed out following Spain's opening game, nothing Gasol does in the Eurobasket will completely soothe those fans and media concerned about his playoff meltdown last spring. (For the record, I think he'll be just fine.) If he averaged 70/25/15 next season (which would be outstanding production), when the playoffs rolled around, many would still look back to New Orleans and Dallas and wonder if a sequel is coming.
That said, there's obviously no downside to playing well, and Gasol appears to be doing just that. If it helps him put last year's disappointment behind him and return the self-confidence clearly lacking in the playoffs, the Lakers will greatly benefit.