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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 4, 2010

NBA: Don’t call Lakers Gasol Ga-soft anymore

By Jeff Miller
The Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — Physically, he isn't really any bigger.

Literally, he couldn't have been much bigger.

The label Ga-soft?

It's Ga-gone!

The Laker who wasn't tough enough two years ago vs. Boston was plenty against the Celtics on Thursday, Pau Gasol shedding Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis.

And, ultimately, something even larger and more imposing — the idea he wasn't up to doing things like he just did.

At least not in The Finals. Not against the Celtics. Especially not after 2008.

"I thought," Boston Coach Doc Rivers said, "he was the best player on the floor."

Remember now, the Lakers also employ Kobe Bryant, and he only had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists in his team's 102-89 Game 1 victory.

So what things did Gasol do to overshadow Bryant's steady brilliance?

Well, things like grabbing 14 rebounds on a night when Garnett, Perkins and Davis combined for only 10.

Like being a constant presence inside as the Lakers built a 48-20 edge in points in the paint and a 16-0 advantage in second-chance points.

Like blocking shots by Ray Allen, Garnett and Rajon Rondo — that's three-quarters of Boston's "Big Four" — all in the span of two minutes of the second quarter.

The label Ga-soft?

Don't be Ga-goofy!

"He attacked us," Rivers said, and that's a phrase no one would have uttered about Gasol as he was being shoved around in the '08 series between these teams.

That Finals disappointment — and the questions about lacking toughness that followed it — literally chased Gasol into the weight room.

Two years later now, he emerged on this night with more strength, if not more obvious bulk. At least nothing was obvious until this performance.

"For me, it was important just to play hard, be aggressive and help as much as possible out there," Gasol said. "That was my mindset night."

On one of the Lakers' early possessions, he turned, collided with Garnett and was knocked off balance. Gasol meekly tossed the ball away for a turnover. A short time later, he mishandled a pass. Then he traveled.

But Gasol then turned his game around quickly, as the Lakers trailed 2-0 for 59 seconds but never again thereafter.

"There were no statements to be made," Gasol said, dismissing the notion that he felt the need to bury more than the Celtics in Game 1. "My goal, our goal is to win the championship, not just the first game and not just a make a statement right now."

He finished with 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting. And he had one, one solid screen on Davis — the Celtic with "Big" in his very nickname (Big Baby) — that sent the hefty Boston big man reeling and onto his big backside.

"What I see from him are just the little actions that represent not backing down," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "Getting hit, taking the blow, absorbing it, not reacting to it one way or the other. Those are the things he's learned in the last year and half or two."

Recall that one of the themes of the '08 postseason was Gasol's need to play through contact. Jackson repeatedly urged him — in private and publicly — to stop looking to the referees for help.

That's just one of the places where these Lakers are better now than those Lakers were then. And that's just one of the reasons why these Lakers think this series will be different.

Want one statement to sum up Gasol's impact in Game 1? He finished with eight offensive rebounds; so did the Celtics.

"If you heard for two years what you couldn't do," Rivers said, "you're probably going to come in and try to prove (something), and I thought Gasol proved a lot tonight."

He proved the Lakers of the late spring of 2010 are not the Lakers of the late spring of 2008.

On Thursday, the difference seemed to measure much greater than just two years.

A telling play: In the second half, Garnett took possession and turned on Gasol, flashing his elbows. Gasol pressured Garnett, going face-to-face, denying his drive and forcing a pass.

Tony Allen took the pass, launched himself toward the basket for a dunk and Bryant smothered the attempt.

"He attacked us," Rivers said of Gasol. "I thought he made terrific plays, terrific passes, shot when he should shoot. Yeah, he's better."

It took only seconds for the Lakers and Celtics to be rolling around together on the Staples Center floor, Ron Artest and Paul Pierce going rodeo cowboy on one another less than 30 seconds into Game 1.

But it was the Laker who stands tallest who left the lasting shadow.

"Now," Gasol said, "we've got to make sure we tune in again and refocus for Game 2."

The label Ga-soft?

Tell it Ga-bye!