Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was a rock fight.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Boston Celtics were leading the Los Angeles Lakers 57-55. Kobe Bryant’s shooting performance — he was 6-for-24 — wasn’t the only stinker in the box score from that night. Ray Allen, the hero of the 2013 NBA Finals for the Miami Heat, shot 21.4 percent from the field and went 2-for-7 from three. Paul Pierce went 5-for-15 from the field, and the Lakers needed all of the offense that Ron “Metta World Peace” Artest could muster. He went 7-18 from the field and scored 20 points.
Pau Gasol didn’t have a great night from the field either. He played well in the series overall, averaging 18.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, but in Game 7 he too shot under 40 percent. However, while Artest’s surprising fourth-quarter 3-pointer was the most memorable shot of the game, it was Gasol’s assist to Derek Fisher for a three that tied the game at 64. Then with the Lakers up by three Bryant missed a 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining that Gasol was able to corral for his 18th rebound of the game — nine of those were offensive. He was also the only Laker besides Artest to make more than one field goal in the final quarter.
Those championship banners in the Lakers’ rafters; Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain — that’s the Hollywood of the NBA at Crypto.com Arena. No organization in the NBA has had that kind of star power for that many decades — and it’s still going because LeBron James agreed to another 1+1 deal to stay with the Lakers. Gasol’s name holds nowhere near the same weight as any of those in the NBA world, but it’s of similar importance in Laker Land.
It’s why the Lakers are retiring his number this upcoming season, because, without the 2008 trade to bring in Gasol, the Lakers do not win those championships in 2009 and 2010.
The NBA’s premiere franchise began to struggle in the mid-2000s. After getting walloped by the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, O’Neal and coach Phil Jackson were out, and the following season was a wash with Bryant missing a month of action. Jackson then returned, and Bryant was an individually great player in 2005-06 and 2006-07, but after getting defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns in consecutive seasons, Bryant was ready to leave the Lakers.
After an interesting day of radio interviews and footage from an early camera phone, Bryant returned to the Lakers for the next season, which started off better. Andrew Bynum’s role was increased and Derek Fisher returned from the Utah Jazz. The Lakers were 29-16 and in fourth place on Feb. 1. That day they executed the Gasol trade and lost only nine games the rest of the season. He joined the lineup on Feb. 5. The Lakers would go on to win 14 of their next 16 games on their way to the best record in the Western Conference.
Gasol wasn’t the traditional Lakers center like O’Neal, Abdul-Jabbar, and Chamberlain. The world didn’t stop every time that he touched the ball, but what brought to the team was vital. His skillset allowed all of the other Lakers to play a role best suited for them.
Lamar Odom was ahead of his time. He was a 6-foot-10, muscle-bound forward with a real handle and point guard vision, who could also get to the rim and dunk on his opposition. That lefty 3-point shot that he had wasn’t bad either, but it wasn’t working for the Lakers with him as the No. 2 option. With Gasol as a consistent scorer from 17 feet in, and a true low post player, it allowed Odom to be the Lakers’ playmaker, and third option. With Gasol also having good court vision, the Lakers had a gigantic front line that was as skilled as it was large.
One of the reasons Bryant was so upset with the Lakers in 2007 is that he felt there was no secondary threat, and that the organization blew it when they didn’t trade Andrew Bynum for an aging Jason Kidd at the trade deadline. Once Gasol was on the team Bryant knew that there was someone who opposing defenses would have to respect.
While Bryant didn’t want to play with O’Neal anymore, he needed another all-star teammate. Someone, that in Game 7 against the Houston Rockets in 2009, could go for 21 points, 18 rebounds, and three blocks while he shot 33 percent from the field and scored 14 points. The Lake Show was the Kobe show at that time, but without his Ed McMahon to fill it up from time to time, his career would be looked at much differently and the Lakers would likely be missing two championship banners
Yes, the Lakers retired jersey section is almost like its own basketball Walk of Fame. The names and numbers in there belong to people who must be discussed in any conversation about the history of the NBA.
Gasol is not that player. An all-star and All-NBA performer for sure, but never First-Team All-NBA or an MVP candidate. However, even the Lakers have room in their section of all-time greats for a player like Gasol. A player who may not be a hugely important figure in the story of the NBA, but is without question one of the most important in Laker franchise history.