Lakers-Thunder Game 4: The scapegoating of Pau Gasol

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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.

via Kobe and Pau: It must be the end of their era | gasol, bryant, game – Sports – The Orange County Register.

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.

Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis still not talking off court

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The Bulls are 5-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury suffered when Bobby Portis punched him in the face during a preseason practice. Mirotic and Portis are both excelling individually, and Chicago has outscored opponents by a whopping 34.3 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court.

Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com:

When asked if the two former combatants have spoken yet, Mirotic said, “We did on the floor. We’ve always spoken because we need to have good communication.” As for whether they’ve talked off the floor, however, Mirotic was succinct in his response: “No.”

I guess Mirotic hasn’t completely moved on, though he said he did. But that’s fine. How could someone get past a teammate punching him in the face?

Importantly, this is becoming just a regular NBA problem. The extent of that practice punch was practically unprecedented. But plenty of players have loathed teammates while making it work on the court. That happens more than people realize.

Mirotic and Portis can make this their status quo – at least the on-court cooperation. I’m not convinced Chicago will keep winning like this.

Watch Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ short film (video)

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in a letter called “Dear Basketball,” which was made into a short film.

Now, on the day the Lakers retire his Nos. 8 and 24, you can watch it. It’s quite beautiful:

Double number retirement fitting for Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant’s career truly occurred in two acts.

He was Shaquille O’Neal’s super sidekick for three championships. Then, Kobe led the Lakers to another two titles himself after Shaq departed.

He was an athletic, high-flying slam-dunk-contest champion. Then, he became known for his cerebral play and footwork.

He faced trial for rape in Colorado (the case was ultimately dismissed, and he settled civilly), blame for Shaq getting traded and criticism for being too selfish when the Lakers struggled in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure. Then, Kobe – still beloved by his fans – again became a socially acceptable marketing force.

His 2007 trade request serves as the more accurate intermission point, but his 2006 jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24 works well enough. He had a Hall of Fame career in No. 8 then a borderline Hall of Fame career in No. 24. Think Tracy Mcgrady’s career followed by Bernard King’s – but it was just Kobe followed by Kobe and with far more postseason success.

Here are the win-share leaders with a single franchise during Kobe’s career:

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So much about Kobe is excessive – his accolades, his shot selection, his reputation as clutch. He had an all-time great career, but the myth outpaces reality.

Yet, Kobe becoming the first player with two numbers retired by the same team – which the Lakers will do at halftime tonight – feels incredibly appropriate. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Kobe had time to succeed then succeed again in an extravagant way only he could manage.

He was dedicated and disciplined, flashy and fastidious, No. 8 and No. 24

Warriors will watch Kobe Bryant’s numbers get retired, Lakers might not

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The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 at halftime of their game against Warriors tonight.

The road team won’t miss it. The home team might.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Lakers coach Luke Walton, via Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation:

“I hadn’t thought much about [watching the ceremony],” Walton said Sunday. “We’re still deciding how we’ll approach halftime.

“Our first priority is still the job that we have. I’m sure there’s going to be some halftime adjustments we need to make against the Warriors. We’re toying with a couple different ideas to let guys at least see part of it.”

Kerr seems like a pretty cool guy, someone who understands what truly matters. This will be a historic moment, and that can take priority over watching video for one night in a long season.

But he also has the luxury of coaching an all-time great team. Even with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston injured, the Warriors are favored.

Walton has a young team that needs every break it can get. But he too should embrace the significance of the ceremony. His franchise is.

After reportedly initially being scheduled for pregame, the ceremony will occur at halftime. The NBA implemented a hard 15-minute limit on halftimes this season. Any team not ready will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty. So, lengthy speeches tonight could hinder the current team on the court. And that’s well worth the cost of doing business.

In the same regard, current Lakers watching Kobe’s ceremony would gain pride in being a Laker. There’s real value in that, probably more than in going over adjustments for a December game during a season very likely to end outside the playoffs regardless.