Commentary

Pau Gasol goes green in loss

The Spaniard fell back into his old habits by letting the Celtics push him around

Updated: January 31, 2011, 1:03 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Pau Gasol watched the final minute and change of the Lakers' 109-96 loss to the Boston Celtics on the bench, his day done early in a game Los Angeles let fall by the wayside.

On his chest he wore a throwback jersey in the style worn by the 1971-72 Lakers, but Gasol's performance had more of a 2007-08 retro feel to it.

Tuesday marks the three-year anniversary of Gasol arriving in L.A. His time with the team has included an incredible run of success with three straight Finals appearances and back-to-back championships, and it's come along with Gasol's own personal arc of improvement.

In the 2008 Finals against Boston, Gasol and the Lakers were pushed around, getting outrebounded for the series by 30 boards over six games. Gasol was hardly the dominant factor he was during the regular season that year either, failing to top 20 points in any game of the series.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswirePau Gasol struggled to find his way in the paint against the Celtics, then had to rely on his midrange shot.

In the 2010 Finals rematch against the Celtics, Gasol was a different player. He scored more than 20 in three of the seven games and turned in lines of 17 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists in Game 6 and 19 points and 18 rebounds in Game 7. That time around, it was the Lakers outrebounding the Celtics by 16 for the series.

But he shrank in the glare of the Celtics' green again Sunday, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 7 boards in a game where the rebounding margin was 43-30 in Boston's favor.

Gasol was 4-of-6 in the paint on Sunday and 1-of-7 out of it. Rather than lamenting not going into the lane more often, he said he was comfortable with the 10- to 15-foot jumpers that he kept settling for and coming up empty with -- he just missed them.

"This is a very upsetting loss obviously," Gasol said. "A very upsetting loss."

Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant operated in Mamba mode all day long, avenging his 6-for-24 line from last June's Game 7 with 41 points on 16-for-29 shooting.

"We have to figure out ways when Kobe is as aggressive and as effective as he was [Sunday] to also get involved somehow," Gasol said.

Bryant is always on the edge of commandeering a game unless his teammates show him something. Part of the reason Bryant was taking every shot for the Lakers in 10 straight possessions in the fourth quarter was that none of his teammates made him feel compelled to cough up the ball.

It would be easy to call Bryant a ball hog, but Lakers head coach Phil Jackson himself said, "I didn't think anybody else wanted the ball."

There's a certain way you have to play to beat Boston and it just so happens to be the same (and only) way to gain Bryant's trust on offense: play so hard that you're demanding success from yourself.

Although Gasol inadvertently caught Kevin Garnett's head with his elbow and caused five stitches, Garnett caused more harm to Gasol, with many of his 18 points and 13 rebounds coming with the Spaniard guarding him.

As much as Gasol has a right to gripe about getting only five shot attempts in the second half while Bryant took 18, Lamar Odom said everybody in Kobe's supporting staff allowed him to take center stage without interceding.

"Whenever we play games like that, we give Kobe no choice but to try to take over the game," Odom said. "We just didn't get everybody involved like we needed to."

I'm not dismissing the facts that Gasol can't pass the ball to himself or that it's 15 years into Bryant's career and he still can't help but try to win a game on his own from time to time. Bryant's zero assists on Sunday jump from the box score as much as his 41 points do.

Gasol was hardly the lone problem against the Celtics. The Lakers were outscored 59-42 in the second half, allowing Rajon Rondo to rack up 15 of his 16 assists after the break. Ron Artest went 1-of-10 on offense and could do nothing to stop Paul Pierce from scoring 32 points.

But Gasol is the three-time All-Star; it's his duty to rise up to be the yin to Kobe's yang to maintain the health of the team, even if he has to force it sometimes to make it happen.

"It's always been the balance that makes us better," said Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher. "We're not going to accomplish our goals if we're relying on or expecting that Kobe is going to have to score 30 or 40 points to get us over the hump."

While Boston's Big Three has grown into a Big Four since 2008 with the development of Rondo, too many times this season has Bryant made the Lakers a solo act because Gasol wasn't playing up to his second banana status. Los Angeles is 6-9 this season when Gasol scores 15 or fewer points.

"We have to make sure that we're all involved, that we're aggressive, that we understand what we're doing out there," Gasol said.

Understanding is one thing. Making a stand is another.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com