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Pau Gasol played one of his best games in recent times last night versus the New Orleans Hornets. He put up 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out 4 assists and blocked 3 shots. He looked like the Gasol of old – or “2010 Pau” as Kobe put it – and the majority of it was because the Spaniard was getting the ball in the post.
What brought on this sudden change of play? It seems it was engineered by Kobe Bryant and then backed by Mike D’Antoni, per ESPN:
“He just tells me to just run to the post and take it and screw everything else, basically,” Gasol said of Kobe Bryant’s instructions. “That’s not my personality. I like my team and my coaching staff to want me to be there, instead of positioning myself there, but hey. … It helps that Kobe, who has a lot of control over what happens out there, wants me to be there and sees that it works and is supportive.”
“I think Mike just realized what he has in Pau,” Bryant said after the game. “During that stretch there, second quarter when I was out of the game, during a timeout he said, ‘Guys, we just got to pound the ball inside to Pau. We just got to go to him. Stop trying to do things on the pick-and-roll, just go inside, let him muscle us.'”
Now, I’ve been as critical of D’Antoni as anyone, but I must give him credit where credit is due. In D’Antoni’s opening press conference back in November, he called the post-up “the least efficient play in basketball”, and yet he was telling his guys during a timeout last night that the ball had to go inside to the Spanish big man. He didn’t want to see his beloved pick-and-roll; he wanted Gasol to go to work down low.
What brought on the change of heart for D’Antoni? Some of it was probably down to Kobe’s continuous campaigning for Gasol, some may be down to D’Antoni trying to save his job, but I’d like to think that the main reason was because it just works.
When Phil was in town, he wanted to see the ball go through Gasol’s hands almost every time down the floor, and sometimes I’d watch to see what happened when he didn’t get it – it would usually result in a turnover or a bad shot, but if Pau got the ball on the post, something good almost always seemed to happen. It was just the same last night, with Gasol taking the ball inside and then schooling the defense. He’d either score, make a good pass to the open man or draw a foul. Something good happened almost every time he touched the rock.
If the Lakers can continue to give the ball to a slightly healthier and more confident Pau Gasol when he asks for it down the post, something good might finally happen for the purple and gold this year.