LOS ANGELES — With the game on the line and the Lakers clinging to a three-point lead with possession of the ball, it wasn’t Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, or Steve Nash who found themselves taking the final shot.
No, that honor went to Pau Gasol, whose diminished role on a newly-stacked team this season hasn’t impacted his will to win, or his ability to remain engaged.
Gasol’s emphatic drive and dunk down the middle of the lane sealed the Lakers win over the Knicks, a hard-fought and competitive 100-94 victory that finally brought L.A.’s record to the .500 mark on the season.
Nash was inbounding along the baseline, and appeared to be looking to get the ball to Bryant initially. As Bryant tried to free himself, however, he found two defenders right there with him — Jason Kidd, and Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony initially was checking Gasol, but passed him off to Kidd on the switch in order to stay close to a streaking Bryant. Kidd followed Bryant as well, which probably wasn’t a bad decision considering the Lakers propensity to force the ball into his hands in virtually every end-of-game situation.
After Gasol set that brief screen and once he was left by both Knicks defenders, he wisely drifted to the three-point line, where Nash found him.
Gasol had a clear path to the basket, and didn’t hesitate for a second. He immediately put the ball on the floor and drove down the lane for a powerful two-handed slam dunk that put the game in the win column for the Lakers.
Anthony was asked afterward how he saw it all unfold.
“I think Jason was trying to set a trap on Kobe,” he said. “I was trying to switch. I switched off and I think Jason was trying to trap, so it was just a miscommunication on both our behalfs.”
Anthony was also asked if he thought the play made by Nash to find Gasol was a special one that maybe not a lot of players in the league were capable of. But he laughed off that notion when giving his response.
“Well, I mean, s—, he was wide open,” Anthony said with a laugh. “You could find him. Anybody would have found that, he was wide open down the lane, and he made a crucial play.”
Gasol simply basked in the moment afterward, as well he should have. He’s been heavily criticized both this season and last, but showed in this one just how capable he remains, even as merely the occasional fourth option on a team loaded with talent.
“I don’t dunk as often as I used to so it felt good,” Gasol said. “I took it right down the lane and finished strong.”