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Pau Gasol brings stronger effort in Game 7

May 13, 2012|By Mark Medina

The suffocating defense continued to push, but Pau Gasol kept fighting. The loose ball didn't initially bounce his way, but Gasol kept reaching. The putbacks didn't fall in the bucket right away, but Gasol kept tipping.

Once his putback finally dropped into the basket, Gasol let out a roar. The outburst sounded as loud as his team-leading 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists in the Lakers' 96-87 Game 7 victory Saturday over the Denver Nuggets.

"I kept jumping and jumping until I was finally able to put it in," Gasol said. "It's a lot of energy going through my body all night long. It kept me active. I'm happy it worked out that way."

It hardly worked out that way recently. After opening the first four games of the Lakers' first-round series against the Nuggets as both an efficient facilitator and mid-range scorer, Gasol suddenly became a liability. His trusty shooting disappeared in Game 5 where he shot four for 11 from the field. His game disappeared altogether in Game 6 where his three points and three rebounds boded less than the number of intravenous fluids Kobe Bryant received (four) so he could score 31 points despite nursing intestinal flu symptoms.

Gasol's vanishing act left plenty sick to their stomach and only heightened skepticism the Lakers would involve him in their off-season changes the same way they unsuccessfully shipped him in the Chris Paul deal.

It appeared for the second consecutive year Gasol would become the focal point for the Lakers' early playoff exit. For the second consecutive year, Lakers legend Magic Johnson publicly called for the Lakers to trade him should the team fall again early in the postseason. Bryant publicly questioned his effort before the media, namely by touting Metta World Peace as the lone teammate who provided a consistent effort. Lakers Coach Mike Brown publicly questioned Gasol's commitment before his teammates.

"I just told him to bring it," Brown said. "I told him to bring it in front of the team, told him to bring it when we were by ourselves in one-on-one situations. I told him we needed him to get involved."

Nowhere did Gasol look more involved than in that third-quarter sequence where he grabbed six quick offensive rebounds before tipping the ball into the basket.



"You saw the hunger," Lakers guard Steve Blake said with a smile. "When he made it, he flexed his muscles. That gives us some hope and some confidence. I love to see him have that energy like that."

Gasol displayed that energy in numerous ways.

He worked out extensively with Lakers assistant coach Darvin Ham beforehand to sharpen his aggressiveness. Gasol delivered a fist pump and speech in the huddle after starting introductions. He displayed his improved mind-set so early that it took him only six seconds into the game to surpass his Game 6 scoring total. Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for 39 points by mostly working together high to low, sparking them to hug each other after numerous baskets. He cashed in on the increased floor spacing because of World Peace's return, the team's improved outside shooting and Bryant's never-ending command on double teams.

"I wanted to make a better effort than I brought in Game 6," Gasol said. "I'm not a player who can put up three points and three rebounds in one game. I had to make a conscious effort of coming out harder and playing at the fullest from the beginning until the end."




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