By Mark Medina for Inside the Lakers
So many things seemed to bother the Lakers’ star as he tried to round himself into form with both his timing, confidence and decision making after experiencing a recent injury.
But this goes beyond Kobe Bryant. We’re talking about Pau Gasol.
Bryant graded himself an “F” after posting nine points on 2 of 9 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists and eight turnovers in the Lakers’ 106-94 loss Sunday to the Toronto Raptors. But consider Bryant’s sluggishness happened in his first game since shattering his torn left Achilles tendon eight months ago. Also consider that Bryant’s statistical line nearly matched Gasol’s seven points on 3 of 11 shooting and eight rebounds.
Hence, why it was hardly surprising the 18,994 persistently booed Gasol as he never showed the dominant form he hoped to showcase both with a larger post role and Bryant’s presence shying away defenders.
So what’s ailing Gasol these days?
“I wasn’t 100 percent but I don’t like to make excuses,” said Gasol, who has been nursing a sprained right ankle. “I’m just going to try to play through what I have going on.”
It didn’t happen.
Gasol missed open jumpers. He missed easy defensive assignments en route to Amir Johnson posting 32 points on 14 of 17 shooting. He missed the entire fourth quarter. Through it all, the 18,994 at Staples Center booed him with the same ferocity as they did three years ago during Gasol’s disappearing act in a four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. Meanwhile, the Lakers bench featured five players in double figures.
“I knew he had his ankle bothering him here or there, but we need him,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If you look at the stat sheet, our bench was all double figures. I might have to think about who starts. I don’t know.”
D’Antoni then clarified this doesn’t mean Gasol will lose his starting spot. But with Nick Young (19 points), Xavier Henry (17 points), Jodie Meeks (14 points), Jordan Hill (11 points) and Shawne Williams (10 points), D’Antoni suggested he could shuffle his lineup to smooth the transition period for Bryant’s return.
“Pau will be back,” D’Antoni said. “He’s battled through some injuries. Just like everybody else, there was a product of no flow out there. It just wasn’t where it was. He’s fine.”
“He’s professional. He will. Just play harder. He’ll do it.”
Gasol hardly did that against Toronto, though.
Bryant made a deliberate attempt to jumpstart Gasol’s fledgling game, resulting in a layup off a pick-and-roll dive and a baseline jumper. But those instances marked the exception. Instead, Gasol replicated his season-wide tentativeness where he’s averaged only 14.2 points on 41.2 percent shooting.
“We talked a little bit after the game in the locker room in terms of making some adjustments and things that we read,” Bryant said. “It didn’t look like he had his legs underneath him that much. But I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll talk it out some more and figure it out and see how he feels and where his body is and go from there.”
There’s plenty to go over beyond Gasol’s shooting miscues. He repeatedly failed to shut off Johnson in the paint, while the Raptors scored 62 points in the paint.
“A guy like that shouldn’t have that type of night against your team,” Gasol said. “We have to do a better job individually and collectively in order so anyone won’t have a game like that.”
The Lakers hope Gasol doesn’t have a game like he did against Toronto, either. But even with Bryant likely going through an adjustment period, he downplayed the importance that Gasol elevate his game.
where his body is and go from there.
“We’ll lean on each other,” Bryant said. “As you can see, our bench is phenomenal. They play extremely well man. We just have to go out there and support each other. Any given night somebody can step up and be explosive. We just have to support each other and make each other better.”
If only the Laker fans at Staples Center were just as forgiving toward Gasol. Instead, on a night where they showed appreciation for Bryant simply making the first small step into rounding himself into form in his first game back, the Laker fans showed frustration Gasol hasn’t done that in 20 games.