Big part of the blame falls on All-Star big man
Every time he touched the ball, the murmur grew, and grew, until finally, the sound of a collapsing Lakers season cascaded around the skinny guy’s shaky shoulders.
The booing fans knew it. The annoyed Lakers felt it. History will eventually record it, and it will be about as pretty as the skinny guy’s haircut.
When the story of the end of the Lakers’ attempt to win three consecutive championships is written, it will begin, and end, with Pau Gasol.
You want a scapegoat for a 93-81 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals? You want to attach a name to a two-games-to-none deficit that will be historically improbable to overcome?
Gasol is, sadly, your man.
Gasol, with the great smile and warm personality. Gasol, with two rings worth of smarts and skills.
Gasol, who has disappeared before our disbelieving eyes.
The melting that began in the first round against New Orleans ended in a puddle on the Staples Center floor Wednesday when Gasol was once again pushed, shoved, and battered into the sort of submission that the other Lakers could not overcome.
“There were some things that obviously didn’t look good for Pau tonight, but he worked,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson.
Gasol always works. But in the last couple of weeks, it just hasn’t been working.
On this night, Gasol couldn’t guard the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 24 points while missing just seven of 16 shots. Gasol also couldn’t control the interior offensively, failing to help Andrew Bynum against the Mavericks’ bigs of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.
“Pau didn’t have the inside game we expected,” said Jackson.
The Lakers needed an early spark after blowing a 16-point lead in Game 1, yet in the first half, Gasol scored only two baskets. The Lakers needed a late push against a Mavericks team that has already blown one huge lead in this postseason, yet Jackson benched Gasol midway through the fourth quarter because he was in foul trouble and basketball trouble.
In the end, Gasol scored 13 points with 10 rebounds and just one assist and do you remember? Do you remember how he ended last year as one of the Game 7 heroes against the Boston Celtics? Do you remember how he began this season as one of the best players in the league, carrying the Lakers to their hot early-season run?
That doesn’t even seem like the same person we’re watching now, and nobody can figure out why, but the statistics are stark.
Last season during the playoffs, Gasol averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds on 53% shooting.
This season, through seven games entering Wednesday, he was averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 43% shooting.
The drop has been remarkable. The effect on this team has been astounding. The hurdle now is huge.
Of the 238 NBA seven-game series that have begun two-games-to-none, the team with “none” has come back to win just 14 times.
Only three times in NBA history has a team won a seven-game series after losing the first two games at home.
“Obviously, you have to be worried,” said Jackson.
That worry increased in the final moments Wednesday when Ron Artest acted like the old Ron Artest when he inexplicably hit Jose Barea in the face, leading to an ejection and possibly a suspension, which he would deserve.
The boos that Artest also deserved would have been louder but, honestly, most fans were either walking up the aisle or exhausted from jeering Gasol.
Gasol was so lousy in the first half, when he exited the game for the first time with 4:14 remaining in the first quarter, the crowd screamed even louder than usual for incoming Lamar Odom, a roar clearly fueled with relief. Then when Gasol entered the game for the final 4:20, there were exhausted boos.
“He was one of the players who looked tired out there,” Jackson said of Gasol.
Early in the third quarter, Gasol was involved in a sequence of plays that epitomized his postseason and the fans’ reaction to it.
One moment, DeShawn Stevenson was muscling the ball from him. On the next possession, Stevenson was blocking his shot. Moments later, Gasol missed a jumper.
Boo, boo, boo, until, on the fourth possession of his horrid stretch, Gasol found himself alone inside for a dunk, and the boos momentarily stopped. But soon thereafter, Gasol was lost on defense while Nowitzki was draining a three-pointer.
A two-hour debacle for a two-time defending champion. An endless nightmare for pummeled man known as Pau.