Sorry for the lack of posts this morning, guys. Going to my cousin’s graduation today; dude’s the valedictorian of his class. Talk about the apple falling super far from the cousin’s tree.
The worst part of last night’s game, besides getting absolutely humiliated in the NBA Finals by a team I like about as much as I like passing a kidney stone, was that I knew I’d wake up to a million and one articles about, “Pau Gasol, super tough guy.” I guess that’s what happens when a supposedly-soft Spaniard has eight offensive rebounds while the Celtics’ two big, bad, tough guys combine for only seven total boards.
Just in case you feel like inflicting punishment upon yourself or puking all over yourself, here are some excerpts about Pau. Warning: this will be torture. And I’m not just talking about any kind of torture, I’m talking about Jack Bauer getting 10,000,000 volt shocks and collapsed lungs from some lunatic who’s supposed to keep him alive but instead pushes him to the brink of death:
“Hey Boston? Great Celtics? Famed smackdown artists? Shhh, it’s OK, the coast is clear. You can come out now. Those bullies in gold shorts and grimaces are gone. I promise. Nobody is waiting to wrestle you back to the floor. Nobody is going to bump you back into the marina. Those guys who tossed you around like vacant headbands have the left the building. It’s OK, Celtics, you went into hiding early, but it’s fine now, you can come on out from underneath your frayed reputation and dented mystique, it’s only one game. Or is it? That is the question facing both parties late Thursday at Staples Center after the most one-sided Lakers-Celtics NBA title fight since, well, their last Finals fight. Two years ago, it was Boston winning by 39 points. On Thursday night, it was the Lakers winning by 13 jabs.”
“Jeff Van Gundy described this sentiment during Thursday night’s broadcast. ‘Everybody who knows basketball understands that when [the Lakers'] toughness was questioned, that was code for, ‘Pau Gasol is soft and we can attack him,” Van Gundy said. Gasol was a convenient scapegoat for a team that couldn’t find open looks against a stifling Boston defense. Perhaps Gasol wasn’t sufficiently aggressive in the 2008 Finals, although the Lakers’ inability to work inside had a lot more to do with the Celtics’ defensive pressure than any real or perceived squishiness from the Lakers. Toughness can often be one of those self-fulfilling attributes — absent until it suddenly becomes present at the moment of achievement. On Thursday night in Game 1, the Lakers dominated the Celtics in the paint (48-30) and in second chance points (16-0). Kevin Garnett, often regarded as the paragon of intensity, spent most of his evening confined to the perimeter. Meanwhile Gasol set up shop at the elbow and, when he wanted to, down on the low block.”
“So we won’t go overboard and attach the dreaded ‘S-word’ to the Boston Celtics. But know this: In Thursday’s 102-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics certainly looked soft. For all the talk about the delicate Lakers, all the chatter about their fairly peaceful stroll through the finesse-riddled Western Conference, all the questions about the tall, lean Spanish guy (because, you know, Europeans haven’t always displayed the fortitude necessary to capture titles), it was the Celtics who appeared a bit dainty in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. ‘I thought the Lakers were clearly the more physical team today,’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ‘I thought they were more aggressive. I thought they attacked us the entire night. I didn’t think we handled it very well. They killed us on the glass.’ [...] Honestly, the 34-year-old KG looked old. But after watching him fare well against Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis the past two series, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Clearly, though, Gasol isn’t Jamison or Lewis. Long questioned about his toughness (or lack thereof), Gasol brought the pain on Thursday. And no one knows that better than the 295-pound Davis, who looks like he could crush Gasol like a grape. But late in the third quarter, it was Gasol who did the flattening. Setting a screen on Davis’ blindside, he leveled the Celtics’ box-shaped big man, sending him sprawling to the floor and leaving onlookers wondering if Davis would get up wobbling like he did after suffering a Dwight Howard-induced concussion in the Orlando series. In every way, at every turn, the Lakers bullied the visitors.”
“Any haunting memories of the 2008 Finals may begin to fade for Pau Gasol. Two years after a “soft’’ tag was attached to Gasol’s play during the series loss to the Celtics, Gasol showed up to the Staples Center last night and pushed for rebounds, worked for shots, and boosted the Lakers to a 102-89 victory in Game 1 of this year’s Finals. Gasol scored 11 of his 23 points in the first half, helping the Lakers move out to a 50-41 lead at the break. He grabbed 14 rebounds, but eight of those were on the offensive end — matching the Celtics’ total by himself. [...] The Gasol that the Celtics saw last night is not the player the Celtics faced in 2008. In that time, the Lakers have won an NBA championship and Gasol has remained an integral part of the game plan. ‘What I see from him is just the little actions that represent not-backing-down type of things,’ said Jackson. ‘Getting hit, taking the blow, absorbing it, not reacting to it one way or the other with the mentality to look at the referee or wonder about the blow and the legitimacy of it.’”
“‘I’m better than I was tonight,’ Garnett said afterward in the glum visitors locker room. ‘I played like horse[expletive].’ The game was lost largely in the paint, where the Celtics’ big men, primarily Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, were generally manhandled by Gasol and Co. The Lakers outscored Boston, 48-30, in the paint and outrebounded the Celtics, 42-31. Perkins, who finished with only 8 points and three rebounds, joined Garnett in accepting much of the blame for the loss. Perkins failed to block a shot and was outplayed from the start by Lakers center Andrew Bynum. ‘I didn’t have any impact on the defensive end at all, and it all starts with me,’ Perkins said. ‘I’ve got to do better.’ Garnett’s futility was encapsulated by a sequence midway through the fourth quarter as the Celtics were scrambling to get back in the game after falling behind by 20 late in the third quarter. Poised for an easy dunk that would have cut the deficit to 11, Garnett completely flubbed a layup attempt, then butchered a follow-up effort as if his arms and legs were betraying him. Moments later, Gasol compounded the frustration for KG and the Celtics by setting up Lamar Odom for a jumper that extended LA’s lead to 93-78. Boston failed to cut the lead to fewer than 10 points the rest of the way. ‘I’m pretty sure everybody needs to step up a little bit, including myself,’ Garnett said, his head bowed. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, playing mind games in the run-up to the series, portrayed Garnett as a rugged force with ‘a smack-down mentality.’ But Gasol was the aggressor throughout last night’s game, just two years after he was ridiculed as the symbol of Laker softness after the Celtics overpowered Jackson’s team in six games in the 2008 Finals.”
I saved my least favorite for last, and it hurts to call it my least favorite because it’s written by one of my all-time favorite NBA writers. But when Adrian Wojarowski has it in for your team, it’s tough to read. He is one of the most passionate and blunt writers out there, and I respect the hell out of him for it. But it hurts when he’s writing scathing thoughts about the Celtics and hyping Pau Gasol, and it hurts mostly because almost everything he wrote was true. The only thing I disagreed with was a minor point about Pau Gasol’s screaming being out of the ordinary. I have watched Pau a million times over the years, and screaming is his thing. It’s just how he celebrates.
But that small part doesn’t change that Woj’s piece illustrates exactly how ready Pau Gasol is to star in this series. He won’t go into the summer with another whimper. He’s finally prepared to stand up and be a man to the big, bad bullies.
Pau Gasol never forgets the way Kevin Garnett belittled and humiliated him, treating the European’s arrival to the NBA as an invitation to berate him with sharp words and sharper elbows. Gasol hates Garnett for it, they will tell you. There’s a visceral disdain that’s stayed with the Los Angeles Lakers star, an obsession that goes beyond beating Garnett, but embarrassing him.
When Gasol grabbed a rebound over Garnett late in the Lakers’ 102-89 Game 1 victory, missed a shot, grabbed the ball again and laid it into the basket, he couldn’t help himself. Out of nowhere, out of character, Gasol flexed his arms and screamed into the Staples Center din. It was an unmistakable mimic of K.G., a sarcastic ode to a bully he vows will never take his lunch money again.
It hurts that this is all true. But do you want to know what hurts even more?
That I’m afraid of Pau “The Big Poodle” Gasol.