Left alone up front, Gasol becomes center of attention

By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / June 11, 2010

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The Lakers have done everything in their power to avoid memories of the 2008 NBA Finals. But in the second half of Los Angeles’s 96-89 loss in Game 4 last night, one of those similarities was unavoidable.

Coming into the game, Andrew Bynum was confident that his injured right knee would hold up and allow him to contribute. But the Lakers’ center was able to play less than two minutes in the second half — 12 minutes total — and, just as it was in 2008, Pau Gasol was left as the Lakers’ sole post threat. Bynum’s absence allowed the Celtics to use a stable of post defenders to make Gasol’s points just a little more difficult to come by.

Gasol had 13 points in the first half and showed off every element of his impressive offensive skill set. Early in the first quarter, Gasol hit back-to-back jumpers and just one possession later faked to the baseline and spun back into the lane to finish with his left hand. And even though Gasol didn’t attempt a field goal in the second quarter, the center hit 5 of 6 free throws in the period.

“Pau has been playing great,’’ Kobe Bryant said. “He had a great game again tonight. The offense starts with him a lot of the times by throwing the ball in the post to him and making good decisions and reads and scoring, when we need him to score, and defending, when we need him to defend.’’

As the second half began, Bynum wasn’t included in the lineup. As a result, rather than matching up with Kevin Garnett, Gasol was checked by Kendrick Perkins.

Perkins, who has about 30 pounds on Garnett, established an obstacle right from the start of the half. There was plenty of contact under the rim throughout the quarter, and Gasol’s repeated appeals to the referees went unheeded. The situation escalated to the point that Celtics coach Doc Rivers feared his center might be in danger of picking up a technical.

“That was actually one of the reasons I said, ‘We’ve got to get [Perkins] out,’ ’’ Rivers said, “because you could see it, the double technicals, it was about to come.’’

With Perkins out, Rasheed Wallace (6 feet 10 inches tall) stepped in to guard the Gasol (7-0). And although the mass Perkins brings to the lane can slow Gasol, it’s Wallace’s extra reach that the Celtics’ coach sees as an advantage. Against the varied defenders, Gasol only had 8 points in the second half.

“He’s got size and length,’’ Rivers said of Wallace. “Pau is a great offensive player, and it’s rare that he has to shoot over length. And he’s physical, Rasheed is physical. So if we can keep that body on him, that’s great.’’

Gasol acknowledged that although Wallace does have more length, he doesn’t present a unique enough challenge for him to alter his approach.

“He’s longer, but there’s also long players in the league,’’ Gasol said. “I mean, I don’t treat it any different when one or another player is guarding me. I try to attack and be aggressive and go by him. If I see the opportunity to shoot it, I seize it.’’

As Bynum’s absence affected Gasol’s offense, his role as a rebounder and defender might be more important. Glen Davis had two of his four offensive rebounds in the second half, and Boston’s second-chance points fueled the lead that the Lakers couldn’t overcome.

“It’s definitely a factor,’’ Gasol said of Bynum’s absence on the glass. “Giving up 16 offensive rebounds, it’s huge, and being outrebounded by them [41-34] is also key.

“So we need to do a better job next game on rebounding, putting bodies on people, and not allowing them to get as many second-chance points as they did tonight.’’

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