A Daily Babble Production
Pau Gasol has received a lot of grief over the last couple of seasons regarding his perceived softness on both ends of the floor and an inferred tendency to shrink in big spots.
Whether that reputation is entirely fair overall, I'm not sure. What I am certain about is that if we are going to call Pau's toughness and play in the clutch into question, it would be disingenuous not to recognize him when he does step up in crunch time. That is exactly what he did in yesterday's Christmas Day circus with the Celtics.
Sure, the three rebounds in 35 minutes or the couple of alley-oop dunks he allowed Kevin Garnett didn't do much to improve his defensive reputation. But when the game was on the line, he was without doubt the best player on the floor.
With the game tied at 81, Gasol began his own personal 7-2 run. For the second time on the day, the Celtics gave him space from 15 feet, and Gasol rattled one home once more. He came down the lane to make a catch and float in a baby jumper on the run. After Garnett knocked down a jumper to keep the Celts within two, Gasol followed with the sequence that broke the game. He curled around a screen from the left block into the lane to catch and finish while drawing contact from Paul Pierce. Iffy call or otherwise, Gasol not only made the shot but hit his sixth free throw in as many tries to complete the three-point play. When he blocked Ray Allen's three at the other end to set up Trevor Ariza's uncontested dunk that put the Lakers up seven with 1:12 to play, Gasol effectively iced the game.
It took all of 95 seconds. Pau Gasol went 3-for-3 from the field and 1-for-1 from the line with a blocked shot to push the Lakers from an 81-81 tie to a 90-83 lead en route to a 92-83 victory. He finished with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field, a perfect day at the foul line, five assists, three rebounds and three blocks. Again, the rebounding and defense could have been markedly better (Garnett did shoot 11-for-14, after all), and Gasol could have done without going flying like a rag doll when he collided with Rajon Rondo, on whom Gasol only has 11 inches and some 70-plus pounds. But at the end of the day, he got the job done in the biggest spots, and the Celtics didn't. So kudos to Pau for coming up in the clutch this time around.
Similarly, Kobe Bryant earned his share of credit. In eight regular season and Finals games against the Celts last year, Kobe shot better than 50 percent from the field on exactly one occasion. Yesterday, he not only went 13-for-23 (with a couple of made field goals at tremendous degrees of difficulty), but he also made solid decisions with the basketball down the stretch, assisting on all three buckets of the Gasol run plus Ariza's dunk to seal it. Speaking of Ariza, his two saves on the baseline were huge plays for the Lakers.
Beyond those respective tips of the cap, it just doesn't seem healthy to get too riled about this one as a Celts fan. The Lakers, one of the league's three best teams, played a very good all-around game, as evidenced by Bryant's uncharasteric success with the Celts, Gasol's clutch play, Ariza's hustle and the fact that Lamar Odom came off the bench to can treys on consecutive possessions late in the third quarter.
On the other side, the Celtics played far from their best basketball. Kevin Garnett was excellent offensively, and Paul Pierce came up big in the third quarter. Ray Allen didn't shoot the ball well, and we'll be kind and say that Rajon Rondo was up and down. The bench showed no issue that it hadn't already over the last two months (length, offensive stagnation, hemorrhaging points allowed defensively), and it simply came back to bite a bit more against a better opponent. I'm not working myself into enough of a lather to give myself a coronary about Tony Allen this morning. The team defense had its moments but was largely inefficient overall. These things happen. Sometimes, they all conspire to happen on the same day, which has now happened exactly once in the last six weeks and three times since the season opened.
The Celtics are 27-3, tied for the best 30-game start in the history of the game. They have the same flaws and concerns that they did when they were 27-2 and in sole possession of the best 29-game start in the history of the game. The Lakers were better yesterday than the Celtics were, but I got up from the couch no more a believer that the Lakers will be better than the C's in June than I was before I sat down.
As for the officiating, to put it simply, whatever. The Celtics shoot 29.6 foul shots per game, second most in basketball. The Lakers shoot 27.6 foul shots per game, fourth most in basketball. The two teams combined for 23 attempts yesterday. Seems like an anomaly all around. Yes, the Lakers took seven more shots from the line, and there were more than a few calls that I didn't like in real time. There were also more than a few calls that made me realize I was wrong and the officials right when I watched the replay. The Celtics shoot an average of 3.4 more times per game from the stripe than their opponents. Officials haven't exactly been out to get our boys this year. The game was in Los Angeles, and none of the deplorable triumvirate of Ken Mauer, Bennett Salvatore or Violet Palmer were involved. I'll survive without further complaint.
The Lakers played better than the Celtics and deserved to win on December 25th. Hats off to them. I'm proud to say that our beloved Celtics are once again enough of a power in this league to merit a Christmas Day appearance. I wish said appearance had ended differently, but I'm sure l glad to sit down next to my father and watch it.
But that was all December 25th. Today is December 26th. Which means it is now time to worry only about beating the Golden State Warriors.