It's a dramatic turn that probably shouldn't be regarded as too much of a dramatic turn.
An angry Pau Gasol(notes) finally flies past the bully that had dogged him for most of his career and embarrassed him in his first taste of the Finals back in 2008. In Game 1 of this year's Finals, Gasol fights back, humbling Kevin Garnett(notes) on his way toward dominating stages of Thursday's Laker win.
Nothing about that should be surprising. Only injuries limited Gasol from acting as this league's best power forward in the early part of this season. And only stereotyping gone mad prevented others from seeing past what he couldn't do (shove a defender to the floor by merely arching an eyebrow, then proceeding to dunk with two hands and touch the top of the backboard with the other eyebrow) and paying attention to what he could do (mainly working as perhaps this league's best all-around talent outside of some free-agent-to-be that was born in Akron).
[Photos: See Pau Gasol in Action]
And Garnett? Just two years removed from MVP consideration, the 2004 MVP has taken a bit of a dive over the last two years. And after a significant comeback at the start of this postseason, he's taken another cruel dive over the last two rounds. Made all the more apparent in Game 1 by a borderline frightful miss of two easy lay-ins, seemingly blocked by the rim on one. Made worse by Gasol's standout play and Pau's rightful admission on Friday that KG had "lost a step."
[Photos: See Kevin Garnett in action]
Should Friday's remarks lead to a controversy? Certainly not. Shouldn't it be completely clear to just about everyone watching that K.G. has lost a step? Even in his last dash at the MVP two years ago, he was barely topping out at 30 minutes a game on some nights (32.8 minutes per game overall), as coach Doc Rivers saved his legs. He'd earned it. No player has gone all out as much as Garnett since entering the league in 1995.
Has he "lost some explosiveness," as Gasol pointed out? Of course. K.G.'s not throwing down or (more to Gasol's point) driving past people as much as he used to, and you're not going to see the sort of violent dunks in this series that you used to see Garnett flush over the heads of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ervin Johnson. Hell, bring up K.G.'s dunk to most of the kids in either locker room, and the startled response in 2010 would likely be, "K.G. dunked on Magic?"
Because they'd probably believe that K.G. is both old enough to dunk on Earvin "Magic" Johnson and seemingly angry enough to try and dunk on the beloved NBA Hall of Famer. That's his rep, at this point.
Is it deserved? Of course. Sick of me asking you the questions? Probably.
K.G.'s offense in Game 1 was terrible because Pau Gasol was guarding him. I've watched clips of these missed jumpers over and over again, and he's getting the same lift that he has for years. The problem is, on the jumpers, Gasol's quickness and length is forcing Garnett to slightly fade to his left on every shot, instead of pulling straight up. The result, as any coach will tell you, is pretty poor. K.G. made one of the two open 20-footers he took in Game 1, a pretty sound percentage.
In the post, as Gasol pointed out, his game is hamstrung by the fact that he can't really drive around anyone not named Antawn Jamison(notes) anymore. This allows Gasol to load up on Garnett's go-to move -- his turnaround jumper. With the jump hook in the middle being taken away by, again, Gasol's footwork and length, K.G. has to go to a turnaround that Gasol knows is coming. And even when Garnett hit his lone turnaround jumper on Gasol in Game 1, Pau had a hand right in his face, defending him perfectly. It was an impossible shot that KG blindly tossed in.
Now, it should be pointed out that Gasol's discussion regarding K.G.'s lack of explosiveness was created when a reporter asked Gasol about his time playing some years ago, when Gasol was in Memphis, and Garnett was in Minnesota, and the two teams would meet four times a season. And, of course, K.G. has lost some explosiveness since 2004. Haven't we all.
Not that the driving was a mainstay of K.G.'s act in his prime, his preferred move was the turnaround jumper even then, and he and his Timberwolves teams were constantly being criticized for not getting to the free-throw line enough. It was just enough of a threat to keep you on guard before you lunged to alter his eventual jumper. And that, right now, is nearly enough to keep K.G.'s offensive influence mitigated.
But the change in teams -- mindsets and personnel -- might have something to do with that as well.
In Game 1 especially, Garnett's offensive moves came on what almost felt like broken plays. Plays that were designed for others to score -- or for K.G. to score differently -- fell apart and the ball ended up in Garnett's hands as a "here-you-save-us" option. And Garnett seemed hesitant, even as he rose for that 20-footer, even as he went into the moves that eventually led to that turnaround jumper. This is the reason, along with Gasol's sound work, that Garnett has to fade left on his perimeter looks.
That has quite a bit to do with the difference between his current Celtics, and those older Minnesota teams. Good or bad ones. Because even with the Timberwolves at their best -- 2003-04 -- Garnett was a go-to guy working with a core that badly needed him to score and dish and set those fantastic screens in order for his team to succeed. He was the man that started the movement, even if he didn't end up with a bucket or assist.
This year's Celtics might not be a better offensive team, but they certainly have better offensive options. Guys that need the ball, guys that need to have a little space and time in order to score. Despite Boston's myriad options offensively -- this team really does have a deep offensive playbook that relies on counter after counter and sometimes pass after pass -- it doesn't feature the spacing that Garnett's Timberwolves teams did. Even the losers.
Back then, K.G. was stuck on the pinch post, or up top, and was allowed to pick off cutters and screeners, finding players for a pass, going into a triple-threat mode or giving up the ball (then setting the guard-around screen) if no lay-ins or corner threes were available.
In Boston, and especially in Game 1? Garnett was dumped on the low post, with nobody cutting, no spacing in any style, and asked to score one-on-one. And despite K.G.'s pleadings on Friday, wanting us to believe that it wasn't "a one-on-one thing between me and Pau," it was. Boston's offense made it that way. They turned him into Elvin Hayes, and I don't know if you've seen K.G.'s silhouette, but he's not Elvin Hayes.
And overall, it was almost as if K.G. was moping a bit. Three missed chippies in a row during the fourth quarter must have gotten to him, but he was playing somewhat scatterbrained throughout.
Helping too much on Andrew Bynum(notes) after a couple of screen and rolls saw Bynum dive to the middle of the paint. Let Kendrick Perkins(notes) handle Bynum, K.G. Let Bynum try to get the ball and go up before the three-second whistle blows. Pay attention to Pau Gasol, because Gasol is one Kobe-shoots-4-for-15 night away from winning the Finals MVP. In your face.
Boston has to find a way to bring Garnett's spacing back, to make him dangerous again. He has a dangerous move, that jumper performed either turning around, or facing up, but it's up to Boston to feature him, not just set him up to fail.
Defense? That's all about talent, heart, and focus. We know Garnett has the first two. It's the third that needs to return to form if the Celtics want to make this a competitive Finals.
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