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“Soft” Gasol Too Strong for Celtics in Opener

A 30-point game from Kobe Bryant was to be expected. A 15-point, two steal performance from Ron Artest; no surprise. It was Pau Gasol — the same player who received much criticism from his 2008 NBA Finals performance— that provided the unexpected in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. Gasol’s 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks set the tone for the Lakers inside in their 102-89 win, a far cry from the power forward/center who was called “soft” after the Celtics manhandled him two seasons ago.

“I thought the Lakers were clearly the more physical team today,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in the postgame press conference. “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.”

Physical is a word that has eluded Gasol since that fateful ’08 Finals meeting when the Celtics pushed and powered him out the way on their way to a 17th title. Gasol was barely into his fifth month with the Lakers after being acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies earlier that season in February. Two years later, Gasol, 29, is well versed in the Lakers’ triangle offense and 1B to Bryant’s 1A in terms of importance to Los Angeles’ success.

But just how important is Gasol? The facts tell more than just the whole story. After Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat following the 2003 season and the three championships he helped bring to Los Angeles, the Lakers slumped to a 149 -141 regular season record over the next three and a half seasons. The Lakers missed the playoffs once and were ousted in the first round in two consecutive seasons before Gasol’s arrival. Since trading for Gasol, Los Angeles is 130-37 in the regular season with him in the lineup and Thursday night marked their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

On Thursday night, Gasol, with the help of gimpy center Andrew Bynum (who missed the ’08 Finals with a knee injury), proved their worth against the supposedly more physical Celtics. The Lakers outscored Boston on second chance points 16-0. Outscored Boston in the paint 48-30 and held a 42-31 edge in rebounds. Gasol matched the Celtics’ top four big men in rebounds by himself 14-14. If the Lakers’ bigs are supposed to be “soft,” they certainly didn’t show it in the series opener.

If Gasol continues to post 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks a game during his third Finals run, the Lakers will be in good position to win their second consecutive title and critics may eventually have to think about relabeling Gasol. That “soft” moniker appears to be wearing thin these days.

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June 4, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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