Pau Giveth And Pau Taketh Away

The Los Angeles Lakers have made the NBA Finals for three straight years since they acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. On Sunday afternoon, that streak will come to an end. If it’s not Sunday, then Tuesday. If the Lakers can force a game six, then that streak will end next Thursday. No matter how you slice, even if the Lakers win a game or two against the Dallas Mavericks in the coming days, they are just prolonging the inevitable: their run as a dynasty is over.

There are a litany of reasons for the Lakers’ shocking demise with the most evident and important one being that the Dallas Mavericks are an excellent basketball team that has displayed the championship swagger that the Lakers should have. The two teams have seemingly switched personas and it’s the Lakers that look like soft choke artists while the Mavs dominate the games, especially the fourth quarter.

While Dallas’ fantastic performance certainly tops the list of reasons why the Lakers’ season will end in the coming days, not too far down the line is the downright horrible play of Pau Gasol. Gasol has been extremely passive, tentative, sloppy with the ball, unsure of himself and thoroughly dominated by Dirk Nowitzki on the defensive end of the floor.  Gasol isn’t establishing good post position, he’s constantly being ripped by Jason Terry and the other Dallas guards when they double down on him and he’s overpassing out of the post rather than making aggressive moves to the basket.

I can’t think of a bigger flameout in the post-season by a player that was named an all-star just a few months earlier than what Gasol is doing right now. I think there were some good reasons for Gasol’s poor play in round one; Carl Landry is a strong, thick defender that pushed Gasol off his spots, attacked him on the offensive end and was very active on the boards. His strength and activity in the post tired Gasol out.

But this series against the Mavs is completely different. I think everyone can understand Pau’s defensive struggles – nobody can stop Dirk the way he is shooting the ball right now – but his unwillingness to take Dirk on the offensive end, which is really the only way to slow him down on offense, is completely unforgivable. Dirk Nowitzki is a very susceptible defender but for whatever reason Gasol will not take advantage of him in the post.

From a pure talent perspective, Gasol is not all that far off from Nowitzki. He’s got an equally effective jumpshot (though Dirk attempts about four more a game), he sees the floor a bit better and is generally thought of as a better defensive player. But the level of aggression that these two players display is completely different and that’s what makes Dirk a superstar and Pau his whipping boy in this series. Every time Dirk gets the ball, he knows what he wants to do, he knows what shot he wants to get off and he knows that he’s going to make that shot. When Gasol gets the ball, at least this post-season, he’s completely lost. Gasol has no idea what move to make when’s on the block, which has led to him passing the ball back out when he is in the post, and he doesn’t have confidence in his moves when he does make them.

The weirdest thing about Gasol’s collapse in the post-season is figuring out what has caused his dropoff.

The most likely reason seems to be a personal matter between Gasol and his girlfriend. News recently came out about Gasol being dumped by his fiancée in the past month because a teammates wife (reportedly Vannessa Bryant) told his girlfriend to call off their engagement and if there was anything to blame for Gasol’s sudden transformation into a below average basketball player that seems to be it. And if that happens to be the case, if Gasol is truly being effected by the end of his relationship with his fiancée, there is no better representation of the word “soft” to be found. Gasol’s been called that many times over the past few years because of his play in the post but if his psychological state has been effected by a break-up so much that it’s hurt his play this badly, he is soft.

On the same day that he had to appear in court to fight against sexual assault charges back in 2004, Kobe Bryant played in an elimination game against the Houston Rockets. He attended court during the day in Colorado then flew back to Los Angeles and promptly dropped 31 points, 10 assists and six rebounds on the Rockets to close out the series. Dwyane Wade spent the whole season fighting for custody of his two sons from his former wife before winning the case in mid-March. All he did during the regular season was put together an MVP campaign while playing on a team willed with extreme pressure. Back in high school, when one’s understanding of the world and the emotions in is fragile, Chris Paul scored 61 points days after his grandfather had been beaten to death, scoring one point for every year his grandfather lived.

I’m not trying to say that Gasol shouldn’t care about the situation between he and his former girlfriend but what I am saying is that there is no reason why something like that should be effecting his play. Off the court issues should become secondary problems at tipoff and basketball should become a players’ top priority until the final buzzer sounds. Now, I’m totally speculating on Gasol’s break-up being the cause for his demise but it’s logical to think an occurrence of that magnitude in Pau’s personal life that happened right before the playoffs could be the cause. It fits the timeline, it makes sense (even though it shouldn’t) and Gasol had this to say after game three when asked about his confidence:  “Obviously there’s some tension inside of me, I guess. You can see it. It’s tangible.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have enjoyed tremendous success since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008. They’ve been to the NBA Finals three times and they’ve won two NBA Championships. Pau’s role on both of those championship squads was as Kobe Bryant’s wingman and he did a tremendous job filling that role. In 2008-2009 Gasol averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game in the playoffs. Last year Gasol averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in the post-season. Those are some great numbers especially when you consider a large bulk of his games came against the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic. But this year? This year Gasol’s averages are down to 13 points and eight rebounds while his field goal percentage has dropped to 42%, which is just about as bad of a shooting percentage as he’s had in his career over a nine-game stretch.

There’s no denying that Gasol has brought tremendous things to the Lakers during his four years in Los Angeles but his play this post-season has played a major part in the Lakers’ unexpected and surprising early exit from the post-season. While Gasol’s tremendous skills are what set the Lakers apart in their two championship seasons in 2009 and 2010, his lack of aggressiveness, passive play and seemingly soft psyche has also helped put the finishing touches on a Laker dynasty that could have accomplished so much more had he played to his potential over the past couple of weeks.

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Author: (2411 Articles)

Mark is an 18-year old sports fanatic that founded this website back in October of 2008. He is the lead contributor for this site and a credentialed member of the media for several sports leagues and organizations. Mark's main focus is the NBA, though he also covers MLB, NFL, and International events like the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Follow Mark on Twitter: @Mark_Travis

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