Overshadowed, somewhat, by the ejections of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, and the general improbability of the Warriors ever losing—let alone losing to a team starting both Andrew Harrison and Jarell Martin—was another instant classic performance by Marc Gasol, who is wonderful.
If you follow the various basketblogs and basketball podcasts, you know that for each of the last two or three years forecasting the upcoming season in the Western Conference has increasingly included a hedge about the eventual, inevitable decline of Marc Gasol. He wasn’t the swiftest guy at his absolute athletic peak—a knee injury in 2014 and a broken foot in 2016, along with general aging, certainly haven’t helped his mobility. But that’s OK! Gasol might have slipped a tad defensively from his Defensive Player of the Year days, but he’s supplemented his declining athleticism on offense by adding an outside shot, and generally becoming slicker than ever as a passer and ball-handler.
His very best moment in last night’s victory over the Warriors came with the Grizzlies up 13 in the third quarter (1:45 in the video above), after the Grizzlies forced a switch at the top of the key that had Draymond Green guarding Mike Conley, and Klay Thompson guarding Gasol. Green is a spectacular defender, but in the overwhelming majority of cases a guard is going to attack a big forced to defend on the perimeter. When that doesn’t happen, it’s overwhelmingly because his screen-and-roll partner has bullied the smaller defender down to the low block and established dominant position. But not here—here Gasol pops to the perimeter, and Conley eventually gets him the ball, to work an isolation possession against one of the very best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
So what does the big Spaniard do? He pump fakes Thompson into the air, then jab steps him to hell, then drains a three-pointer right in his deflated mug. You can count the number of current NBA bigs who could pull that play off on one hand; you can count the number of 32-year-old, former Defensive Player of the Year bigs in NBA history who could do it on one finger. When Marc Gasol is at his best, he really does appear to be toying with the opposition, even if that opposition is maybe the greatest team of my lifetime. It is never not amazing to watch.
Gasol finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, and plus-10 in a game his team won by 10 points. In the post-Tim Duncan NBA, Gasol has claimed the mantle of resident ageless big man, and you should not count on his decline until after it has already happened.