During, and after, the 2008 NBA finals, played between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau Gasol was tagged as soft and as the primary cause of the Lakers' fall to the Celtics.
He was labeled as such, despite having outplayed Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, during that season's first round matchup between the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, followed by his complete domination of Carlos Boozer, during the 2008 second round matchup between LA and Utah, and a competent performance against Tim Duncan during the 2008 western conference finals.
During this year's NBA playoffs, during the series between Utah and Los Angeles, Gasol either matched Carlos Boozer or outplayed him, in all but one game. He also overcame the physicality of rising star Paul Millsap.
In succeeding rounds, he outplayed Luis Scola, Carl Landry, and the rest of the Rockets' bigs, on both ends of the court. He also outplayed, in almost every statistical category, the bigs of a Nuggets team, whose players, Chris Andersen, Kenyon Martin and Nene, were considered tougher than the Lakers' bigs, leading many to choose Denver to come out of the west.
His exceptional play against hardmen of this caliber has either been disregarded or, as I happen to believe, is unknown by the many superficially knowledgable sports analysts that tell the majority of fans what to think.
Now, they want us to believe that Pau Gasol, at almost 29, in one year's time, after over a decade of playing professional basketball, all over the world, has gone through some sort of metamorphosis: he was soft, for over ten years, never pumped his fists or showed emotion, until now.
This thought itself is ludicrous. The fact that they'd like informed fans to believe this is insulting.
Though it can't be quantified, except through actual observation, i.e. watching games and not just repeating what's popular, Pau Gasol has, throughout his career, yelled out in excitement, pumped his fists, given his teammates high-fives, after either executing big plays or seeing them do so. The passive, unemotional Gasol is a myth.
He's done this since his days in Memphis, when, intrigued by his great play against my Knicks, I decided to follow the Grizzlies' progress in the league, after he played a great power game against my New York Knicks.
During that game against the Knicks, he threw down dunk after dunk, against Eddy Curry and the rest of the Knicks' frontline. After each one, he let out a primal scream. It's a tradition with him, I would later discover, not something new.
In addition to a supposed change in his personality, Gasol's statistics for the 2009 playoffs: 18 ppg, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, have been used to point out some sort of supposed existential transformation, from his past to what he's doing now. However, in 2008, he averaged only one point less, than he does for this year's playoffs. He also averaged the same number of blocks and only 1.7 less rebounds. Essentially, the slightest variable, such as teams played against, minutes played, lineups, number of games played, etc. could be affecting the small difference between these numbers.
Still, even if you gave no consideration to these variables, the stats are not different enough to warrant the Gasol metamorphosis theory.
Instead of exclusively, and cynically, looking at Gasol's performance, during the 2008 NBA finals, let's look at what the entire team did. According to stats posted on nba.com, Kobe Bryant shot 40 percent from the field, during the 2008 NBA finals: this is 7 percent less than he is currently shooting and a bad percentage for a primary player, who is likely to take a large number of shots, to shoot at.
The Laker point guards, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, and Sasha Vujacic, combined to average only 5.3 assists, per game. Kobe averaged five, on his own. Gasol and Odom averaged six, combined, on their own.
In addition, the Lakers' point guards took far too many shots, poor ones, at that, and too early in the shotclock. They failed to move the ball, excluded key players, Gasol being one of them, from the offense and turned Los Angeles into a team without an intelligent game plan. This all, having been coupled with Phil Jackson's sometimes inappropriate calm, led to the series loss.
So far, according to nba.com, Kobe Bryant is shooting 47 percent, and Gasol is receiving 13 touches (so far), per game, far more than the nine per game that he logged in last year.
If Gasol receives limited touches, as was the case during last season's finals, when he complained about it to no avail, and Kobe shoots 40 percent from the field, while the Laker point guards devolve to streetballers, chucking up shots, with no interest in strategy, would the Lakers be up 2-0? Would they even be 1-1 with the Magic?.
Folks, trust your gut. If you don't think Gasol is soft, because you've watched him carefully, by actually watching Laker games, and have not seen evidence of softness, it's because he isn't.
If you think he's changed, from soft to tough, just because the analysts say so, at almost age 29, after years of playing pro basketball, inject some common sense into that thought and consider exactly what that implies.
It makes no sense, when you weigh the entire body of work, not just his part in the Lakers' failure against Boston. It also makes no sense, when one looks at the history of basketball, for a big man to be transformed so far into his career.
As Pau said himself, after game two (between the Magic and Lakers), when asked about having shed the soft label: "the media try to find reasons why things happen. I think I played pretty tough throughout the playoffs. We had a couple of games that we just couldn't or didn't compete as hard as Boston did, and we got labeled soft.
"This year, bottom line, we're playing tougher, we understand what it takes to go get the championship."
An intelligent, comprehensive and perceptive analysis, Pau. It's too bad that the humility and common sense necessary to understand your comment is so lacking in the world of sports journalism.
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