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Pau Gasol provides needed lift for Lakers

The power forward gives the team the physical and emotional boost it required to win title.

June 17, 2010|By Helene Elliott

The fire burned in Pau Gasol's eyes with an unquenchable heat Thursday, its intensity too high for him to contain it.

He had just hit a short turnaround jumper to give the Lakers their first points of the fourth quarter, and in the middle of the din at Staples Center he screamed a scream that was primal, profound and instinctively understood by everyone in the jam-packed building.

He would not be denied. Not in this Game 7 against the Boston Celtics. Not while he had spring in his legs and strength in his broad shoulders and that fire in his eyes.

With that passion, Gasol became the emotional fulcrum of the fourth-quarter comeback that allowed the Lakers to push past Boston, 83-79, to win this decisive game and earn their 16th NBA title.

"It's incredible," he said. "I'm living in a different dimension. If I were to find a genie and ask for a wish, this would be my wish for my basketball career."

Gasol, derided as soft so often in previous seasons, displayed an unbreakable resolve. He fought for every rebound, twisted and turned to fight off defenders who elbowed and hacked and tried to body him out of the play, barging through Boston's grinding defense to pull down a game-high 18 rebounds and score 19 points for his third straight double-double performance and fifth in the Finals.

With each step he exulted and grimaced. He screamed encouragement to his teammates and rode the waves of emotion generated by a crowd that followed his cue, exploding in the final quarter after enduring a frustrating game that had plodded to its final act and needed Gasol and Kobe Bryant to turn it into something special.

While most of his teammates — and most of the Celtics — struggled for breath and for the extra vigor that might make a difference, Gasol supplied it throughout his 42 minutes 12 seconds on the court.

"I thought Pau had good energy in the game tonight," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He was the one guy that played with great energy."

Gasol was not perfect. He missed two free throws with 6:49 left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading, 62-61. But he made two crucial free throws to give the Lakers a 70-64 lead with 4:38 left, two more with 2:47 left for a 73-68 lead, and did the sweaty, gritty dirty work under the basket for the layup that put the Lakers ahead, 76-70, with 1:30 left.

But Jackson credited Gasol with turning the game around with one of his four assists, coming off the post to pass to Derek Fisher for the three-point shot that brought the Lakers even at 64-64 with 6:12 left in the fourth quarter. They never trailed again.

"That really changed the complexity of the game," Jackson said.

Gasol clearly was a major catalyst on a night the Lakers needed a physical and emotional lift, and he saved his best roar for last, a release of tension, emotion and joy, tears welling in his eyes as he hugged Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, leaning his head on any available shoulder to share the joy that his ferocity had triggered.

"It feels amazing to win a championship," Gasol said.

"I am truly, truly happy and thankful to be in this position and to have experienced something like this."

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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