- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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The beautiful thing that consistently rings true about the NBA playoffs -- probably more than in any other sport -- is how they literally expose everything. Everything about every team and everything about every player.
Labels and adjectives get attached to players that oftentimes take years to get removed. Some never do. The playoffs swallow up the weak and refuse to discriminate. To some players, the playoffs transform nights from their worst nightmare into an even worse reality.
This year, there are three prime examples, players who wish they were dreaming and could wake up.
Now it's hard to be hard on players when they are fighting through injuries and trying to find their postseason identity, but there's a time and place for everything. It's the playoffs; this is not the time or place to be playing below their capabilities.
But it is the time and place to talk about it.
• Boozer: 10.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 42 percent shooting on average through nine playoff games versus 17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 51 percent shooting on average during the regular season.
• Bosh: 10 points, 9.3 rebounds and 34.6 shooting on average in three postseason games against the Celtics versus 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 49.6 percent shooting on average during the regular season.
• Gasol: 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 42 percent shooting on average in 10 playoff games versus 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 53 percent shooting on average during the regular season. (In the 2010 playoffs, he averaged 19.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 54 percent shooting.)
Their teams depended on them to play major roles. But they've done little to make their opponents believe higher seeds equate to higher power.
For Bosh, it's been an epic tale of trying so hard not to get lost that he's lost himself. For Boozer, it's gotten so bad that he's being booed at home games. For Gasol it's something unexplainable. Possibly unforgivable.
"My emotions got the best of me early on and it kind of dictated what I was doing for the rest of the game," Bosh said after his total eclipse Saturday in Game 3. "I was not trusting my game."
His is the classic case of a player unable to handle the pressure of meaningful playoff basketball once he finally experiences it. Teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have already been through this before in their careers. They came to Miami for this.
Now they are being forced to answer questions about Bosh's figurative absence during postgame news conferences. James Jones and Joel Anthony are being depended upon and trusted more to come through. The Big Three have become a duo.
Eight games in and the impatience of Bulls fans with Boozer has reached the point that there are calls for his removal from the starting lineup. Along with a hopeful removal from the team in the offseason.
The turf toe that he has been fighting since injuring himself in Game 5 of the opening round has gotten him no sympathy or any benefit of any doubt. "Been there, heard it all before" is the consensus.
To unhappy fans, Boozer was brought to Chicago as a free agent last year specifically to produce at this time of year. And despite a semi-breakthrough in Game 4 against the Hawks (18 points, six rebounds, even though his defensive assignment, Josh Smith, put up 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists), the Bulls have been playing four-on-five basketball throughout the playoffs. To critics, they've gotten this far in spite of Boozer. Not because of him.
Gasol has simply become the most hated person in Los Angeles. He's despised more than he was three years ago, after he was exposed in the 2008 Finals by Boston.
"Can a series like this and a playoffs like this undo all the good that you had the previous two seasons?" NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper asked Gasol after Game 3.
"You tell me," Gasol responded. "Can it?"
If I could repost Snoop Dogg's tweet on May 6 about Gasol on this site, I would. In language I can't repeat, it said everything Lakers fans were publicly thinking while watching Gasol diminish to Smush Parker levels.
Andrew Bynum's cowardliness (his flagrant 2 on J.J. Barea), Lamar Odom's bailout (his foul on Dirk Nowitzki), the Lakers' inability to close Games 1 and 3 and their defensive meltdowns, Derek Fisher's lack of production and the L.A. bench's lack of contributing anything of significance, all pale in comparison to Pau's vanishing act.
Of the three -- especially since he was on a team defending a title, especially since he was the one in the MVP discussions earlier in the season, especially since he played such a large role in the Lakers' being swept and embarrassed the way that they were -- Gasol's disappearing act is the most consequential.
The one that -- regardless of the outcome of the other two series -- hurt his team the most.
Both Boozer and Bosh have time to recover. They have a couple of games in this round and more if they advance to erase our memories of their poor play with flashes of brilliance, a la "Men In Black." If smart, they both will use Gasol's play as an example of how not to be remembered in these NBA playoffs.
Bosh said something after Game 3 in Boston on Saturday that may be over-appropriate here: "The toughest thing to do in hostile environments is not just to trust your teammates but to trust yourself. Trust things you've been doing all your life."
Especially when, because of the way they've all played, those hostile environments include home games. Especially when the playoffs continue to expose the player each one is dying not to be.
One not living up to expectations, another not living up to the hype, a third not living up to anything.
If things don't change for the two left standing, it may even be hard to decide which one is which.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
21hEthan Sherwood Strauss