LOS ANGELES - No matter how much Kobe Bryant talks about the importance of his teammates, Lakers such as Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom will be seen as part of his supporting cast. No matter how many ridiculously expensive Jaeger-LeCoultre Compressor Chronograph watches Bryant engraves. No matter how many team dinners they share.
To be fair, it is never easy to distinguish yourself when playing with the reigning MVP, especially one as driven, hyper-competitive, and polarizing as Bryant. But in Game 5, Gasol and Odom made their contributions count in a 103-98 victory that moved the NBA Finals back to Boston for Game 6 tomorrow night. For the second game in a row, Gasol (19 points, team-high 13 rebounds, 6 assists) and Odom (20 points, 11 rebounds) finished with double-doubles. This time around, however, the numbers helped secure a win, not made largely irrelevant as they were by a historic collapse in Game 4.
When asked how prepared other players were to take over considering the Celtics wouldn't let Bryant take over, Odom said, "We're very prepared because we're going to have to do that. I'm looking at the scoring today. We're not going to beat them if it's not balanced . . It's important that we stay aggressive throughout the game. He's going to have spots to take over, but it's going to help us to take shots at the end of the game, just from being aggressive throughout the game."
Gasol and Odom bridged the gaps between Bryant's sometimes spectacular play and his second-half foul trouble. Depending on your perspective, that made the pair either the perfect supporting cast or much more valuable. If the Lakers are going to extend the series, then Gasol and Odom must score and rebound at critical junctures. They must play as aggressively as they did last night.
"They both did a good job on the boards," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "And I thought Pau was aggressive, made some real good plays out there . . . One of our writers was questioning [Lamar's] ability to rebound. Lamar is very resilient and showed that tonight."
It is no secret that Odom has issues with consistency. He can disappear for long stretches, particularly on the glass. In Game 5, his intensity appeared to build throughout the game after a less than rousing start. Odom's biggest quarter was the second, when he led the team with 9 points and 5 rebounds. Odom also didn't waste many shot attempts, finishing 8 for 10 from the floor.
"I tried to stay focused throughout the game," said Odom. "The last game that I played, I thought that I didn't make enough plays down in the fourth quarter. Just wanted to stay focused throughout the game. I'm really focusing on my jump shot and the way I'm shooting the ball. I feel really good about letting the ball go from anywhere on the court right now. Just taking it game by game."
Gasol was strong from the start, making an early statement on the glass. He had some impressive scoring plays in the second half when contact was involved. First, he glided between P.J. Brown and Kevin Garnett on a drive to the basket. The play resulted in Brown picking up a foul and the Lakers going ahead, 65-62, with 7:16 remaining in the third quarter. In the fourth, he scored on a 2-foot hook shot despite being bumped by Garnett.
Gasol may have benefited from the absence of injured Celtics center Kendrick Perkins.
"We try to be physical with or without [Perkins]," said Gasol. "We try to challenge them as much as they challenge us. We try to protect our paint and make sure we control the boards. The next game we're going to try to be really physical and give it our best shot."
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.