The Gasol-Garnett Turnaround
(As this blog is being posted, 99-year-old John Wooden, the greatest coach in the history of sports and the one I’ve been closest to in my 45 years in the business, remains in grave condition in a UCLA hospital. Obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and I know many of you would would like to express similar sentiments. Let’s hope there will be good news to report in the next 24 hours.)
The most striking thing about Game 1 of these NBA Finals is how Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett seemed to trade places.
The Gasol who was bruised, beaten and battered by the Celtics two years ago didn’t show up at Staples Center. Instead, a more experienced, mature and motivated Lakers’ big man took this game by the throat early and never let it go.
So much for that “soft” label, huh? This wasn’t Gasol the boxer, it was Pau the slugger, going inside and delivering more blows than he was taking. He scored 23 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and was blocking shots everywhere. The 102-89 final score was almost incidental. This one was never close. The big bodies that had pushed Gasol around in 2008 were now backing off, and a whole different tone was set in this series.
Garnett, meanwhile, seemed to get swallowed up like so many JV celebrities at Staples. The towering ringleader of two years ago looked slower and less aggressive this time, and he basically left it to the Glen Davises and Rasheed Wallaces to pick up the slack inside. Well, guess what? They couldn’t. Neither could Kendrick Perkins, who had everything but that green mouthpiece of his knocked to the floor.
But mostly, it was Garnett’s decline that was most drramatic. “The Big Ticket” was more like an empty stub, finishing with a modest 16 points and a limp 4 rebounds. The only thing he led the team in on this night was the amount of perspiration dripping down from his beard.
Lakers fans had to be excited because the physicality part of it was supposed to be all Boston. But from the first 30 seconds, when Ron Artest and Paul Pierce wrestled each other to the floor, it was clear the guys from Tinsel Town intended to man up this time.
Kobe was his usual 30-point self, attacking the basket right from the start. Artest played wonderfully at both ends. Andrew Bynum had his moments in the first half. Derek Fisher battled a somewhat passive Rajon Rondo to a draw. Even Jordan Farmer enjoyed a few hustling highlights, especially one fourth quarter hoop that cut off any Celtics’ momentum that was threatening to build.
So now it’s 1-0 L.A., and a lot of people will be saying this thing is all but over. Don’t count me in that group.
I was there, in the old Boston Garden, in 1985 when the Celtics blew out the Lakers 148-114 in the Memorial Day Massacre. I thought for sure Pat Riley’s guys were done. They weren’t. They not only came back to win Game 2, they went on to capture the series, beating Boston for the first time in the finals.
So ring up the first one for Kobe, Gasol and Co., and give Phil Jackson credit, too. Ye Olde Zenmaster never gets enough credit for emphasizing the kind of defense the Lakers play. They played their skivvies off at that end of the court in Game 1.
Can they do it again in Game 2? Well, if they do, the Celtics are in trouble. Sometime before then, Doc Rivers has to come up with some answers.
Like figuring out a way to handle that tough, new, bearded guy playing center for the Lakers.
— Steve Bisheff