Ticket vs Gasol: Key to Closing Out

I wrote a post right before the Finals began, detailing how Kevin Garnett had shut out every power forward that he had faced in the playoffs this season.  At the time there was some uncertainty about whether KG would get the full-time call on Pau Gasol, and if so whether he could replicate his huge defense against arguably the best offensive big man in the NBA (and a legit 7-footer, instead of the tweeners he saw in the East).  Five games into the Finals, we can start to answer that question.

Overall, Gasol has a very nice stat line through 5 games: 18.8 points, 52% FG, 10 reb, 2.6 assists, 42 minutes

This is slightly better than Garnett's overall stat line of: 15.6 points, 51% FG, 6 reb, 3.2 assists, 31 minutes

But when we look at the times when Garnett and Gasol have been matched up 1-on-1, we get a slightly different view.  This is the view I want to look at today, as it reflects a lot on what we need to see in Los Angeles to ensure that the Cs come home with #18.  Garnett defends Gasol as his primary assignment when Gasol and Bynum are on the floor together, then switches to Lamar Odom when Odom and Gasol are on the court together (1 exception: end of game 3, when KG switched back onto Gasol in the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter after Gasol toasted Baby on the block).  Because the pattern is so constant, it makes it easy to go back through and the game logs to detail how Gasol does against KG, vs against everyone else.  Let's look at it by game (will be lots of numbers.  If too many, just skip to my conclusion below):

Game 1: Garnett defended Gasol for 23 minutes:

Gasol (KG on him): 16 points (6-for-9 FG), 8 rebounds (5 offensive), 1 ast, 2 TOs, +15

KG (in those minutes): 12 points (5-for-9 FG), 0 rebounds, 1 ast, 1 TO, -15

(Gasol in 23 minutes without KG on him: 7 points (2-for-5 FG), 6 reb (3 off), 2 ast, 1 TO)

Game 2: Garnett defended Gasol for 17 minutes (this was the foul trouble game):

Gasol (KG on him): 4 points (2-for-2 FG), 6 reb (2 off), 2 ast, 0 TO, -2

KG (in those minutes): 4 points (2-for-4 FG), 3 reb (0 off), 4 ast, 0 TO, +2

(Gasol in 25 minutes without KG on him: 21 points (5-for-8 FG), 2 reb (1 off), 1 ast, 1 TO)

Game 3: Garnett defended Gasol for 22 minutes:

Gasol (KG on him): 4 points (2-for-6 FG), 6 reb (2 off), 2 ast, 1 TO, -4

KG (in those minutes): 17 points (7-for-9 FG), 4 reb (1 off), 2 ast, 3 TO, +4

(Gasol in 17 minutes without KG on him: 9 points (3-for-5 FG), 4 reb (0 off), 2 ast, 0 TO)

Game 4: Garnett defended Gasol for 9 minutes (this was the Bynum injured game):

Gasol (KG on him): 6 points (3-for-5 FG), 2 reb (1 off), 0 ast, 2 TO, -0

KG (in those minutes): 2 points (1-for-4 FG), 2 reb (1 off), 1 ast, 0 TO, +0

(Gasol in 36 minutes without KG on him: 15 points (3-for-8 FG), 4 reb (0 off), 3 ast, 2 TO)

Game 5: Garnett defended Gasol for 23 minutes:

Gasol (KG on him): 0 points (0-for-3 FG), 3 reb (1 off), 0 ast, 0 TO, -10

KG (in those minutes): 15 points (5-for-6 FG), 9 reb (1 off), 3 ast, 1 TO, +10)

(Gasol in 15 minutes without KG on him: 12 points (5-for-9 FG), 9 reb (6 off), 0 ast, 1 TO)

Overall: Garnett has defended Gasol for 94 minutes:

Gasol (KG on him): 30 points, 52% FG, 25 reb (11 off), 5 ast, 5 TOs, -1

KG (in those minutes): 50 points, 63% FG, 18 reb (3 off), 11 ast, 5 TOs, +1

(Gasol in 115 minutes without KG on him: 64 points, 51% FG, 25 reb (10 off), 8 ast, 5 TOs)

Conclusions: Now, that's a lot of numbers to digest.  I put them out there for credibility sake, because otherwise I don't know if you would really believe the final numbers that I'm about to post.  Because in game 1, Gasol came out and smacked Garnett right in the mouth.  There's no other way to put it, and I don't even know if the numbers I posted above accurately convey Gasol's dominance (thought the 8 boards, 5 offensive for Gasol vs 0 boards for Garnett might just do it).  But since then?  These are Gasol's per-36 minute averages when defended by Garnett in games 2 - 5:

Gasol (KG on him): 7.1 points, 44% FG, 8.6 reb (3 off), 2.0 ast, 1.5 TO per 36 min

KG (in those minutes): 19.3 points, 65% FG, 9.1 reb (1.5 off), 5.1 ast, 2.0 TO per 36 min

In other words, since Gasol dominated the opener Garnett has absolutely cleaned his clock head-to-head in the next 4 games.  It's not coincidence that the Lakers won game 1 easily, but the Celtics have been the best team in each of the 4 games since (even the Laker's 2nd win, which was a very winnable game for the Cs).  Gasol obviously gets his numbers overall, but the key seems to be WHEN he gets those numbers.  Garnett tends to defend Gasol at the beginning and end of each half, which are the times when the teams are establishing their rhythm and closing things out.  In other words, he often defends Gasol at the key points of the game.  After the Lakers were +15 during the head-to-head portion of game 1, the Celtics have been a collective +16 during the head-to-head portions of the last 4 games.  This particular pattern suggests that when Garnett removes the 2nd best player on the Lakers during the key points in the game, the Celtics are able to win those periods and thus the game.  That Gasol can put up huge numbers during the middle portion of the halves when the first unit rests doesn't seem to be enough to overcome the Celtics winning the battles of the main units.

So, let's bring that back to finishing this series.  Garnett HAS to continue to win his 1-on-1 battle with Gasol.  As Game 1 showed us, when Gasol is clicking the Lakers are extremely difficult to beat.  The rest of this series will be in LA, where Gasol is more comfortable and will be looking to re-prove that he isn't Ga-soft.  That will make him a dangerous, tough match-up.  But Garnett has to win their 1-on-1, because if he does the Lakers don't seem to have enough other arrows in their quiver to match the rest of the Cs.  This match-up is the key.  If Garnett has one more shut-out in him, the Celtics should again be the world champions.

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