After Game 4’s meltdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder in which Gasol turned over a crucial possession, many fans have been blaming Pau for the loss. Even Kobe Bryant appears to have taken aim at the Spaniard as well, stating that Gasol is the one the Thunder are leaving open, and that he has to be assertive and take open shots. He also assured that Pau will do that in the next game.
Faced with a 3-1 deficit, however, it may be too late. After the Game 2 meltdown, I bluntly stated that Gasol needs more touches, and Kobe probably shouldn’t have taken so many shots. Even after the Game 3 victory, I stated the same thing, although Gasol got more touches and dished out six assists in that contest.
Gasol stated after the Game 4 loss that the Lakers need better ball movement, flow, and balance. That is possibly his passive-aggressive way of saying that he needs more quality touches and needs to be more involved in the offense.
Personally, I don’t think it is completely Pau’s fault, or even Kobe’s for that matter. It is simply a combination of styles of play along with lack of communication. Through the media, each player from Bryant to Gasol to Bynum have said their piece (Bynum simply stated that he couldn’t get the ball and wasn’t involved in the second half of the game).
Gasol’s style of play is that of a team player and will do what’s needed to win; he has a similar mindset to what Lamar Odom used to have with the Lakers. Bynum’s style is that if no one involves him, he won’t always involve himself. If he gets position early and no one gets him the ball, he gets discouraged. And Bryant’s is that he’s going to be aggressive offensively and unless other players are hungry for the ball, he isn’t going to force feed it to them because he’s out there working hard. This, in my opinion, is how each player thinks when on the court.
However, this has got to change and it has got to start with Pau Gasol. Gasol knows that in order to be effective, he will have to be aggressive. Pau, in my opinion, is still the second best player on the team and has a myriad of offensive and defensive weapons. Offensively he can post up, shoot mid-range shots, drop in hook-shots, pass, and as of this season, he can hit three-point shots as well.
He used to hit those 15-foot jump shots with regularity, and post-up and drop in those turn-around, left-handed hook-shots almost automatically–basically befuddling his under-skilled opponents. We haven’t seen that from him thus far.
It’s been a tough year on Gasol, however, as he’s been limited with space in the paint due to Bynum’s emergence, and also placed into a less fitting offensive system than the triangle. Additionally, when he does get into the post, he has no one on the front line to get him the ball the way he does for Bynum or the way Lamar Odom used to do for him. But, he will have to be aggressive and demand that Kobe get him the ball going forward.
Similarly, Kobe is going to have to initiate more pick-and-roll play between he and Pau as they have done so many times in the past. Bynum has been efficient early in games, but doesn’t yet have the ability to deal with a lot of defenses; he isn’t completely consistent yet either. Gasol, however, has proven in the past that he can be a big-time player down the stretch of ballgames, and everyone on the team must embrace him as such. In successful playoff runs of the past, even with the triangle offense being the Lakers main offense through three quarters, the two-man game between Bryant and Gasol was the closing weapon and was extremely difficult to guard. Gasol possesses all the weapons to make teams pay when he’s given the ball in the correct position.
It may be too late for the Lakers in the situation that they’re currently in, but at the same time, Pau Gasol hasn’t imposed his will on the series just yet. When Gasol is involved offensively, he typically makes smart decisions which translates to his defensive play as well. Maybe it should have been said earlier by pundits, critics, writers, or even his teammates and coaching staff. Either way, the Lakers need to quit playing the “blame game” and play the game the right way.
In both instances of meltdowns this series, poor offensive execution and decisions have been made, resulting in seized opportunities by the Thunder. Gasol, despite his flub in Game 4, typically executes the offense the correct way. More importantly, when he sets his mind to it, he can score buckets for the Lakers in an efficient manner. The defense for the Lakers has been pretty good for the Lakers in Games 2 through Games 4, but the same can’t be said for the offense. If they can carefully execute a smooth running, efficient offensive style of play and each be aggressive, they still have a chance.
The Lakers have a major weapon in Pau Gasol in which no single Thunder player can guard. Now, they just have to let him know how much they need him, and hope he comes out and plays his heart out for three games straight. If they can get the Pau Gasol of 2010 back–the Pau Gasol everyone in Los Angeles knows and loves–the Lakers have a legitimate chance to win this series.
The question now is: will the real Pau Gasol please stand up?