A downsized Gasol is the wrong man for this job
SALT LAKE CITY -- Did you see the craziness of the video-game highlight, Kobe Bryant 2008, a toss against the backboard that he caught for a dunk?
Did you feel the floor burns of those three steals, Grand Theft Basketball 2008, consecutive heists in the final minutes?
Did you hear the Lakers come back from a 10-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter Friday night to silence the head-throbbing noise and nearly trash the best home court in basketball?
“We could have won this game,” Lamar Odom said, shaking his head.
But the story was what you didn’t see.
The moral was what you couldn’t feel.
The outcome was due, in part, to what you could barely hear.
Faced with the most intense, physical postseason game of his career, late-season giant Pau Gasol shrank to an indiscernible size in the Lakers’ 104-99 loss to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
With their first loss in seven postseason games, the Lakers weren’t the only ones to reveal their spring mortality.
Gasol, a novice in these deeper waters, proved he also can sink.
Handed its first real test of June-worthiness, that great basketball brain flunked.
Faced with its first playoff adversity, that gentle smile became a whine.
Jarred for the first time with playoff desperation, those beautiful passes were junked.
“It was loud,” Gasol said. “It was intense.”
In his tired eyes you could see the confirmation of one more sentence.
It was awful.
For the first time in this postseason, Gasol did not dress in the crowded visiting locker area afterward, instead retrieving his clothes and dressing in a quieter spot in the back.
It was precisely that way in the game.
Suddenly, if the Lakers aren’t careful with their two-games-to-one lead, it could be that way for the rest of the summer
“I can do much better,” Gasol acknowledged.
On that shot, he was perfect.
In a game in which Utah’s two big men combined for 49 points, he scored 12.
In a game that featured 37 Lakers free throws, he didn’t get to the foul line once.
In a game that featured many touches in 40 minutes, he had just one assist.
And then there were the turnovers.
Gasol had a team-high five blunders, throwing the ball in the stands or dribbling it off his foot or just losing it to players who wanted it more.
With seemingly every turnover came a glare at the referee.
Sometimes that glare continued while the Jazz was scoring at the other end.
Always, that glare burned his coach.
“This is a game in which Pau was looking at the referees every time he got stripped there in the first half,” said Phil Jackson. “They were just attacking him every time he put the ball on the floor. Those turnovers changed the course of the game.”
Attacking him every time he put the ball on the floor? Hmm.
The Jazz was doing what the Denver Nuggets could not do, but what every other likely Lakers opponent this postseason will certainly do.
And on the odd chance they weren’t going to do it before Friday night, well, they’ll be doing it now.
By disappearing, Gasol has become the Lakers’ marked man.
By complaining so much to the officials, he might become one of the league’s marked men.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said of his constant complaints. “I have to learn to play through certain things, whether I agree with them or not, I have to play through it.”
Give him credit for at least staying on the floor.
In the fourth quarter he had a basket, and two rebounds, and a hand in one of those three consecutive steals.
“Struggle is a big word,” Ronny Turiaf said of his teammate. “He did not have a great night, true, but he kept playing.”
Alas, though, he actually played too long, throwing the ball away in the final seconds with the Lakers trailing by five.
It was the Lakers’ 18th turnover, and listen to the simple wisdom of Kobe Bryant.
“We can’t turn the ball over 18 times,” he said.
They also can’t wither when the wind gets tough and, man, with the Utah crowd screaming and chanting for nearly three consecutive hours, that was one mighty wind.
“Sometimes the amount of noise is daunting,” Jackson acknowledged before the game. “It’s somewhat paralyzing if you’re not in tune with your players.”
Paralyzing, and pounding, which my head is still doing as I’m writing this story an hour after the game.
The only time the crowd was quiet was when American Idol’s David Archuleta sang the national anthem for the hometown folks, a song that I dutifully relayed home to my 13-year-old daughter on my cellphone.
It was the last arena call I was able to hear.
When asked about Gasol, Odom chose his words carefully.
“You have to stay poised on the road,” he said. “We did not do a good job of that.”
If Gasol didn’t understand that before, he understands it now.
“I’ve got to go do my job now, protect the ball, go harder, play physical,” he said.
And maybe, while he’s at it, he could also send a postcard back to Andrew Bynum.
Wish you were here.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.