Pau Gasol was the emblem of the Lakers’ woes in the NBA Finals, a lasting image of what went wrong for them in June against the Boston Celtics.
Playing out of position at the time, he was unable to stop Boston from dominating down low, so much so that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said that the Celtics simply “overran us.”
Then came Thursday and, well, Gasol was getting overrun again.
He missed seven of his first 11 shots and was the victim of an embarrassing “pull-the-chair” tactic by Kevin Garnett, who quickly backed away after leaning into Gasol in the post. The result was Gasol falling down and fumbling the ball.
Unlike the Finals, though, there was a surprise ending for Gasol, not to mention the Lakers.
He scored seven points and blocked two shots in the last three minutes, pushing the Lakers to a 92-83 victory.
“I’m really happy that Pau stepped up in that fourth quarter,” Jackson said. “We needed him to step up.”
Gasol finished with 20 points, three rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. He still wasn’t as accurate as usual, but finished with seven-for-14 shooting.
“I just made sure that I took it to them and I didn’t just settle for easy jumpers,” Gasol said. “You’ve got to take it to them, be more aggressive, make sure you get yourself going some other way.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers’ other big man, Andrew Bynum played to a draw against Boston center Kendrick Perkins.
Bynum missed the Finals because of a knee injury, but he was hardly overwhelming last season against Perkins, totaling 12 points and 10 fouls in two regular-season games.
On Thursday, he had nine points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Perkins had eight points and also had seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Bynum was definitely on Jackson’s mind before the game.
“I’m curious to see how he reacts to this ballgame,” Jackson said. “He’s the one guy that we’ve kind of pointed to as an individual that can help us in this situation, this matchup. Size, clogging the lane and rebounding -- those are things that we want to do.”
The Lakers were outrebounded, 40-35, but they blocked nine shots. Boston blocked only three shots.
One-third of all NBA teams played on Christmas Day, a departure from the way Jackson remembered it.
“There used to be two games and here we are with five,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that steamrolled. I guess they pushed the market to see how it goes, and here we are, playing multiple games on Christmas.”
The Lakers have now played 10 consecutive games on Christmas, going 4-6. They are 20-15 overall in such games, playing their first in 1949.