Gasol's new power game too much for Suns, perhaps enough for Celts
LOS ANGELES -- After the Lakers fell to the Celtics in the NBA Finals two years ago, and
Gasol will not admit it, but he can see them coming right now. The Celtics are up 2-0 on the Magic. The Lakers are up 2-0 on the Suns. Gasol is on a collision course with a couple of familiar freight trains. When the Lakers and Celtics met in 2008, Gasol took the brunt of abuse, first from Garnett and Perkins, then from a wave of critics who called him soft. Everything Gasol has accomplished since then is a direct response to the embarrassment he suffered in that series.
The Suns do not have anyone who can approximate the challenge that Garnett and Perkins present, but Gasol is shredding them like a man preparing for bigger things. He scored 29 points in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday -- after scoring 21 in Game 1 -- and the Lakers dwarfed the Suns again, 124-112. The Suns do not have a defender who can guard Gasol straight up, and when they double him, he is an adept enough passer that he always seems to find somebody wide open.
Gasol was frustrated, at times, in the regular season the Lakers didn't make a more concerted effort to pound the ball inside. They enjoy a size advantage against almost every team they play; but for some reason, they don't always exploit it. Even against the small-ball Suns, the Lakers seemed satisfied to run and shoot for most of the first three quarters Wednesday. They were sucked into the Suns' style and tied heading into the fourth.
Then they heeded the words of Suns coach
"This year, Pau is getting a lot more attention in the post than he has in the past, and he's making all the right reads and all the right plays," Bryant said. "He has really figured it out at the right time."
The Suns slowed Bryant, sometimes with two defenders, so he dished out a playoff career-high 13 assists, including three to Gasol in the fourth quarter. When Bryant hits Gasol for a layup or dunk, he has a habit of staring him down and pointing a padded index finger in his face, like a parent who has just found a lost child in a crowd. The pose is becoming awfully familiar.
As well as the Celtics are defending these days, that's how efficiently the Lakers are scoring. Through two games, they have 252 points and are shooting 58 percent, in part because the Suns' defense was vastly overrated, and in part because the Lakers can't miss. Gasol is shooting 65 percent in the series.
The Suns can double Bryant or Gasol but not both, a potentially fatal dilemma. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter Wednesday, the crowd at Staples Center chanted "We want Boston," and while the Lakers pretended not to hear, they want the same. It feels like 2008 all over again:
They are waiting for him, and he for them, a rematch two years in the making.