Gasol's turnover completes Lakers' collapse
LOS ANGELES – Pau Gasol was attempting to play basketball. You know, hit the open man, move the rock. That old stuff.
Unfortunately for Gasol, the Lakers and the future of the Free World, the open man was Gasol himself. And Kevin Durant, all 10 bulletproof feet of him, keeps getting in the way.
Durant intercepted Gasol's pass and then attached the silencer to his shooting hand. He zapped the Lakers with a no-doubt-about-it 3-pointer, and Oklahoma City went on to win a Game 4 that seemed beyond their reach, 103-100.
And the galling events of Game 2 now have been replaced by another series of outrages. Maybe the Lakers have been replaced, too.
Cool, calm and collected are not just the properties of the old. The Thunder kept hanging, thanks to Russell Westbrook's relentless 37 points, and finally the Lakers forgot all that ensemble basketball they had been playing, to such beautiful effect, and put the weight on Kobe Bryant.
Bryant went 2 for 10 in the fourth quarter, mostly with his teammates watching, waiting and maybe whispering, "Come on." This beast-of-burden routine doesn't work any more, not against the good defensive teams.
Not that it's Kobe's fault. He has four teammates on the court with him at all times and about a dozen coaches over there on the sidelines. For the Lakers to forget how they got that 7- to 12-point lead that they held for most of three periods — that is what absolutely will not be forgotten about this.
"There's a counter to everything," said Metta World Peace, who played terrific basketball most of the night. He was Gasol's target on that pass Durant intercepted.
It was mentioned that Andrew Bynum said the Thunder was fronting him in the second half, and that's why he only had four field goal attempts after he went 7 for 11 in the first half.
"That's easy to fix," World Peace said. "No excuses. I was making excuses most of the night and it's time to stop. Move forward."
Gasol said the Lakers "got stagnant, didn't make the defense move." He said they didn't put enough pressure on Westbrook, who scored eight consecutive points during the comeback and, after he slipped in front of Gucci Row at halftime, limped off into the locker room.
"I still don't know what happened there," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "I came in the locker room and he had his shoes off. At that point I didn't know if we'd have him. Then I asked him if he could go, and he said yes."
Go? Westbrook went for 23 points in the second half on 9-for-16 shooting. He is a fascinating player, as blurry as anyone in the league and also as susceptible to shooting his own team out of a game and forgetting Durant. Somehow he has learned to pull himself off the ledge just in time, as he did here. But Westbrook was the one who turned it over before Gasol's ill-fated pass.
Gasol's lack of selfishness is admirable personally but can be poisonous professionally. Open shots are not easy to rustle up in this league. If people get you one and you don't take it, it's just as poor a judgment call as throwing up a poor 30-footer.
"I saw the replay and if I had to do it again I'd probably take the shot," Gasol said.
Bryant, as usual, left no word unminced.
"Pau has to attack the basket, he's got to shoot the ball," he said. "A bad read on Pau's part."
And just like that, a truly brilliant 40 minutes went poof.
The keepsake play of the first half was Bynum's block of Nazr Mohammed in the paint. The ball had not yet landed in Ramon Sessions' hands when Bynum started sprinting down the middle of the floor, the type of "rim-running" exercises that coaches preach. Sessions rewarded Bynum with a pass right into his pocket just above the foul circle, and Bynum finished strongly, as the building bubbled up. That gave the Lakers a 36-26 lead early in the second quarter.
Coach Mike Brown was asked if Bryant was hassled, disrupted or worried by the fact that the Thunder is sending different defenders against him on nearly every possession. Or does Bryant even notice?
"I don't think he notices," Brown said. "I'll say, look, Kobe, do you want us to set a pick and get a particular matchup for you? And he'll just give me that look, like it doesn't matter who's guarding him."
Brown simulated that look almost perfectly — an insolent frown, an are-you-kidding-me glance, as if someone had asked Bryant if he'd ever visited Italy.
That same look was on the vast majority of 18,997 faces, at the bitter end.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org