Pau Gasol: Last Savior Standing

(Chicago 97, Cleveland 95)

It was a Pau Gasol disappearing act and then it was a Pau Gasol game saver. You can say all you want about this new Bulls offense that has Nikola Mirotic bringing the ball up ala Lamar Odom. You can say the offense has Derrick Rose taking 8 more shots than Jimmy Butler, even though Rose, like last year, only shot 36%. You can say the Bulls had shooters all over the floor as the decision makers. But, as all close games do, it comes down to who makes the most plays in the last minute.

It was the Bulls.

A Lebron James drive with Cavs trailing by two points, after a Derrick Rose miss on the other end, was met by the fingertips of Gasol. It was a nice block to be sure. But you wonder if the back problems LeBron is having- he lay on the floor during his breaks off the court- has impacted his physicality.

For much of this game Gasol looked like he had a viral flu, one he always catches when he plays in an offense that disregards the paint. In many ways the performance of Gasol had the same feel of what happened to Gasol in Mike D’antoni’s offense two years ago. Then, Gasol was totally marginalized when all the touches went to those on the perimeter. Tonight, Gasol had seven shots and he only made one and he was so uninvolved in the game he looked bored.

Gasol is an offensive player who can be defensive minded when he has to be. But when his offense is overlooked his defense suffers too. Over the course of the game he wasn’t a good defender and he may have been tired; he had a long summer. Or, he could see Hoiberg has yet to scheme an offense to involve Gasol early. He’s been here before.

Gasol came to Chicago to play for Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau had specific plans for Gasol as the key player on the inside; the offense revolved around Gasol in the paint. Hoiberg was a NBA guard so it’s natural he would want to implement a system that the guards thrive in. But forget about Gasol and then Gasol forgets about the game. Until it’s on the line.

Gasol is still an elite NBA player who competes. That block was a thing of beauty. It bailed the Bulls out who had problems maintaining their offensive execution and allowed Cleveland back into the game. Until Gasol shut the door.

photo via llananba