Someone has to go down for this. It might as well be Pau Gasol, I suppose. Because it sure isn’t going to be Kobe Bryant.
When the Lakers lost to the Thunder Saturday night, blowing a nine-point fourth quarter lead to do down 3-1 in their Western Conference Semifinals series with OKC, it was Kevin Durant’s coming of age. It was also the equivalent of an economic breakdown for the government. The populace is angry. They demand retribution, a cause, a villain.
Pau Gasol fits that model nicely.
It was Gasol who did this in Game 4:
The Lakers blew a nine-point lead in the fourth. They couldn’t contain Kevin Durant. They couldn’t stop Russell Westbrook. And Kobe Bryant struggled against Durant’s defense. And yet…
That could pretty much be all for Gasol in Los Angeles. From the Orange County Register:
Bryant has tired to having to prop Gasol up time and again. Bryant did it often last season in pursuit of a third consecutive title on a bad knee and before Bynum was ready, offering the compelling Natalie Portman-inspired narrative that Gasol is too often the “white swan” instead of the “black swan.” Like the movie, it didn’t end well.
This season, Bryant has still believed that Gasol can come through when it matters most. Bryant’s public request that the Lakers stop dangling Gasol in the trade market was him believing Gasol needed that support to persevere. When I was comparing the very night before the March trade deadline the emerging Bynum and Bryant to the regular one-two punch of Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant, it was Bryant who digressed to say: “We still have Pau.”
Even though Gasol has been loyal and tried to stay invested in the Lakers after the aborted preseason trade for Chris Paul, it hasn’t been the same. And effective or not, no matter how much unwavering respect he has for Bryant, Gasol has also developed his own pocket of resentment for all of Kobe’s high horsing, fire breathing and string pulling in recent years.
Gasol absolutely vanished in the Lakers’ four-game sweep against Dallas last year, presumably because of personal problems. No such excuse this year. Gasol had just 10 points on 10 shots and five rebounds. That cannot happen in a game where the Lakers made a concerted effort to get the ball to their bigs and slow the game down. Gasol can shoot over Serge Ibaka all day, but for whatever reason, simply faded away.
Gasol was almost shipped out before the season in the CP3 trade and was relieved to get to stay. He was almost moved at the deadline, and again, was relieved to stay. But you have to think the Lakers, should they fail to come back from down 3-1, will move on and try and find Bryant a new partner in crime. It should be noted that Bryant, although brilliant for three quarters in Game 4, was 1-7 in the last five minutes. But Bryant will not be the scapegoat. It will be Gasol, it may be Mike Brown. If the Lakers can’t come back, it’s unlikely that the Lakers look anything like they did this year. And they look nothing this year like they did last.