Commentary

With final block, Gasol says it all

Without complaint, Lakers' man in the middle makes others deal with rejection

Originally Published: February 10, 2012
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Even when Pau Gasol takes more shots than normal, plays more aggressively than normal and stays engaged in the action until the very last second to preserve a Los Angeles Lakers overtime victory over the Boston Celtics, he still won't come out and make bold proclamations.

Big talk isn't his thing, despite his bilingual fluency. So if he's angry that he was left off the Western Conference All-Star team, you'll just have to interpret his observation that, "It's surprising that they picked so many guards."

And if his impressive stat line of 25 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks weren't enough of a statement, there's also this, the closest he'll ever come to saying "See!"

"I just wanted to make sure everybody knows the kind of player that I am," Gasol said. "And I continue to help my team to get better and win games."

Hmm, could "everybody" include the Lakers' front office, which was willing to send him out of town in exchange for Chris Paul and continues to, at the very least, entertain offers for Gasol?

Maybe that's a stretch, but since we're well into the calisthenics portion of the NBA trade-rumor season, it didn't take long from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak telling the Lakers' website that, "If there were a way for us to get a 25-year-old, All-Star, ball-handling guard we'd love to do it" to turn into full-fledged speculation that Gasol was on his way to Boston for Rajon Rondo, who fits Kupchak's not-so-generic description, even though Kupchak was speaking in generalities. (And if a deal was in the works it would shock many who would know about such things.)

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
David Butler II/US PresswireShortly after learning his brother Marc would be the Gasol at the All-Star Game, Pau posted 25 points and 14 rebounds on the Celtics.

Rondo could provide the perimeter defense the Lakers need. His ability to singlehandedly launch fast breaks prompted Kobe Bryant to marvel, "Not too many guys walking around the league who can do that."

He can break down set defenses off the dribble, something Bryant doesn't do as well anymore, and he'll leave the shots to others without complaining, another trait that makes him a good backcourt complement to Bryant.

The problem is that Rondo doesn't have the reliable outside shot to keep defenses honest, so that could lead to even more double-teams on Bryant -- if that's even possible after the number of help defenders the Celtics sent his way Thursday night. Kevin Garnett would even pass Gasol off to others as long as Gasol was running around without the ball. But he remained fixated on Bryant. Every Celtic did at various points, which is why Bryant's first shot came nine minutes into the game.

Gasol had as many shot attempts as Bryant through regulation (19) and he finished 12-for-20.

"He took 20 shots; that's phenomenal," Bryant said. "We've been urging him to be aggressive and he took what the defense gave him and he also dictated some offense with the defense and he played a phenomenal game."

The highlights included a put-back off a Bryant missed jumper to tie the score with 9 seconds left in regulation, and he swatted away Ray Allen's last-second attempt after Allen rebounded an errant Paul Pierce shot at the end of overtime.

"I was in the perfect situation and he came out of nowhere," Allen said.

Lakers coach Mike Brown said it was a textbook example of his exhortations to play everything out to the finish. Gasol seemed to respond to Brown's coaching Thursday, including a tongue-lashing during a timeout in the second quarter.

"I just wanted to come out aggressive and shoot the ball better," Gasol said. "I just want to be as big a factor as I can be."

He hasn't been a big enough factor throughout the season, which has brought him to a career-low 16.4 scoring average. He was thrown off by the nixed Chris Paul trade at the start of training camp and has struggled to find a comfort zone in Brown's offense, which has him further from the basket than he was in Phil Jackson's triangle offense.

He learned about the All-Star snub while he was stretching on the court before the game Thursday, when TNT's Craig Sager asked him how he felt about his brother Marc being selected ahead of him. Pau was genuinely happy for his brother, and if he were that genuine about his own feelings he would probably protest his exclusion more loudly.

But he has yet to chop up the Lakers' water. Instead he provided a reminder that the way the Lakers have beaten the Celtics in recent years is when Gasol plays well, be it the Lakers' lone visit to Boston in 2009 or their Game 7 victory in the 2010 NBA Finals. The Lakers' big front line proved more effective than Rondo, whose impact diminished as the game went on. Andrew Bynum had 16 points and 17 rebounds, including a big follow-up basket in overtime, and a three-point play at the end of the second quarter that was so nice he felt compelled to re-enact it while waiting to shoot the free throw.

Boston had more fast-break points than the Lakers, but Los Angeles won the points in the paint and the Celtics' inside game was nonexistent -- one reason they only attempted five free throws the entire game, none in the second half.

The Lakers were better off with the ball going through Gasol. Something to consider before they decide they're through with Gasol.