Pau Gasol searching for his Black Swan
LOS ANGELES -- Is the complete and utter absence of Pau Gasol's "Black Swan" side this postseason causing the Lakers to sing their swan song as the defending champions and fast-tracking the end of their three-peat bid?
It sure looked that way Wednesday, with Gasol mustering just 13 points (only one more than Jose Barea) and 10 rebounds in the Lakers' shocking 93-81 Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks to put them in an 0-2 hole in their Western Conference semifinals series.
"I wish I could have been more productive. I wish I could have been more effective," Gasol said.
"I had some good looks. I had some plays that I should have finished better. But I tried. I tried my best," Gasol said.
But of course, we know this isn't his best, not from Gasol who was considered the Lakers' MVP and even a contender for the league's MVP when he started the season averaging 21.2 points and 12.1 rebounds through L.A.'s first 18 games in October and November, when the team went 13-5.
Basketball hasn't looked fun for him these days, as the only smile we've seen on his face has been of the exasperated, unbelieving variety flashed at a referee after a call rather than the satisfied result of a job well done.
The Lakers' championship formula is a pretty simple blend, with the ingredients breaking down to approximately five parts Kobe Bryant, three parts Gasol and one part each from a slew of other guys like Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and the rest of the bench.
The formula accounts for Bryant starting to slow down because of injuries and wear and tear on his body, which he's pushed through 15 NBA seasons, with the extra effort that Bynum and Odom provide on a regular basis.
But it becomes severely diluted when Gasol doesn't provide his portion.
"Pau did not have a good game inside like we anticipate him to have," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who said before the game that he didn't want to harp on Gasol for his Game 1 performance because he didn't think there were enough opportunities for him.
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But Jackson did plenty of harping afterward.
"There were some weird things in Pau's game tonight," Jackson said. "Kobe missing a layup on a breakaway [with] Pau running behind, not being able to capture the ball. They were just kind of gremlins out there that kind of changed the course of the game [for Gasol]."
Out of the eight playoff games played, here's how many in which Gasol has scored more than his 18.8 regular-season scoring average: zero. And he's only topped his 10.2 rebounds per game regular-season average once, grabbing 11 boards in the Game 1 loss to Dallas.
He missed seven shots and made just five in Game 2. He also came up empty on half of his six free throw attempts.
And punctuating Gasol's poor play is the power forward playing opposite him, Dirk Nowitzki, who put up 26 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting, looking far more comfortable on the Lakers' home floor than Gasol did.
"Dirk's one of the hardest guys to guard in the history of basketball," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, his hyperbole coming off less extreme in the face of how easy Gasol has been to stop.
The nadir of the night for the mop-topped 7-footer came early in the third quarter when, on three consecutive possessions, Gasol lost the ball and turned it over to DeShawn Stevenson, bricked an open jumper at the foul line and then capped it off by being blocked at the rim by the 6-foot-5 Stevenson.
"He had an obvious, easy basket," Jackson said of Gasol's attempt that Stevenson swatted from behind.
It got so bad out there for the Spaniard that the fans -- who embraced him so graciously after the steal-of-the-century-type trade that landed him in L.A. for Kwame Brown and other pieces in 2008 -- booed Gasol hard at several points of the game.
"I was kind of surprised about that," Jackson said of the boo-birds. "But it's tough out there there's some things that obviously didn't look good out there for Pau."
Gasol, a good teammate and a great guy, didn't lash out in frustration after the game or throw anybody under the bus. But he knows it doesn't all fall on him.
"I tried to be aggressive, but there's not much of a flow right now in our offense, and that's killing everybody's rhythm and everybody's confidence a little bit so we have to move the ball, change sides of the floor and make our triangle work for us instead of when the ball gets stuck too much on one side," he said after watching the Lakers start the game 0-for-18 on 3-pointers. "That's just giving too much of an advantage to their defense. They're set. They're not working as hard as we're working on the other end -- second, third, fourth effort -- it's just basically having to do one effort. It's something we have to think about."
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Bryant, who issued the Black Swan challenge to Gasol in late January, pleading him to drop his White Swan side and be more aggressive, protected his teammate.
"You can't just dump the ball off to him or me and expect us to beat double- and triple-teams all night," Bryant said. "He'll be fine. We'll go up to Dallas, get him some easy looks, get him some easy opportunities, draw some double-teams and he'll be all right."
It was a far cry from the "He's next in line and gets the responsibility that comes with it " challenge that Bryant issued to Gasol in the first round against New Orleans.
But while the walls feel like they're caving in on the team, the foundation can be rebuilt starting with Gasol.
"We can't hang ourselves, uh, um," Gasol said, catching himself. "We can't hang our heads."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.