LOS ANGELES — When he first was moved to an ill-defined, lesser bench role, when he learned he wouldn’t be playing every night, Marc Gasol called it “a hard pill to swallow,” noting that he would be “Plan C or D” among the Lakers’ big men.
But now, a month or so later, the 36-year-old has reimagined his role. He’s not a Plan D. He’s the fixer in the style of The Wolf – the fast-talking, slick-dressed gangster/fixer played by Harvey Keitel in the film “Pulp Fiction.” He solves problems.
“You just come in whenever things aren’t going great and kind of help everyone,” Gasol said. “So I accepted it.”
He can certainly do that: Gasol helped galvanize a fourth-quarter run that turned a challenging on-paper matchup against the MVP favorite and his Denver Nuggets into a rousing success for the Lakers on Monday night at Staples Center. Without LeBron James and Dennis Schröder, the Lakers still found a way to hold off the visitors, 93-89, despite Nikola Jokic’s 32 points in a rematch of last fall’s Western Conference finals.
It was also a big step up for Anthony Davis (25 points), after two weeks of tentative play since his return from a right calf strain that cost him two months. Charging toward the rim more with an eye to finish, Davis looked aggressive and scored a decisive basket with 41.8 seconds left to give the Lakers a four-point lead.
And while Davis authored Denver heartbreak with a 3-pointer not that long ago in the NBA bubble, on Monday night it was with a blocked shot – he swatted pint-size Nuggets point guard Facu Campazzo’s long 3-point attempt with 7.5 seconds left and recovered it to keep them from having a chance to even the odds.
Afterward, Davis shouted, “We’re back!” underscoring just how badly the Lakers needed to win, having lost three straight and six of their previous seven games.
“This is sort of a statement game for us,” Davis said. “Sort of a game just to get us back in the win column and make us feel good and give us that momentum that we need to finish out the rest of these seven games.”
But Gasol (10 points, seven rebounds) was a splash of something new as the Lakers have played “in mud” as Coach Frank Vogel termed it Sunday night, after an ugly loss to Toronto. And it happened primarily because Andre Drummond, the team’s regular starting center, was mired in foul trouble against Jokic, with four fouls in the first half, and five early in the second.
It was most telling, however, that Gasol was the trusted hand on Monday night. The Lakers, who led by 14 midway through the fourth quarter, didn’t score a basket without him on the court for five minutes as the Nuggets got within 89-87, then put him back in to help close out the game. The Lakers ended up outscoring Denver by a team-best 17 points during his 17 minutes.
It would have been justified if Gasol had wanted to crow about his minutes, demanding a larger or more consistent role. But he deferred, talking about how well his team had played and how the Lakers had to stop worrying so much about personal agendas with the postseason approaching. That attitude made his head coach beam as much as any play he made.
“Marc Gasol’s a winner, you know what I mean?” Vogel said. “And he understands what it takes to win at a high level, and that type of commitment and sacrifice, and whatever-the-team-needs attitude is what’s necessary for us to win a championship.”
Gasol made his first appearance with 2:22 left in the first half and added zip to the team’s pace, and after a go-ahead 3-pointer by Kuzma and a free throw by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers closed the half with a smothering defensive possession that left Denver unable to get a shot before the buzzer.
Vogel clapped his hands emphatically as the possession ended near midcourt, celebrating signs of life from a team that has been lacking them lately.
“That’s the pillar of our culture here,” Vogel said. “We’re a defensive-minded group that likes to get after it and make teams uncomfortable and suffocate them on the defensive end.”
Gasol also stood out during a stint after Drummond’s fifth foul that swung into the fourth quarter, including a standout sequence that saw him completing a long pass to fellow oft-benched vet Wesley Matthews, then knocking down one of his three 3-pointers himself. It was a strong validation of Kuzma’s sentiment just one night before that he wished Gasol could get a little more run.
When Gasol first checked in, the score was tied at 55. When he checked out 13 minutes later, the Lakers were ahead by eight.
Matthews was a perfect 3 for 3, including a pair of 3-pointers. The veteran wing celebrated with Gasol by stringing an imaginary bow, a gesture that hasn’t been seen much recently with him warming the bench.
It helped compensate for clear deficiencies without James or Schröder. The team had more turnovers (20) than assists (18), and certain sequences – like three straight turnovers by Caruso early in the third quarter – highlighted the need for James to get healthy again soon.
The Lakers also had to contend with a feisty return from JaVale McGee, their former starting center of two seasons who was traded away this offseason. McGee plundered the paint for 10 points, including an 8-0 run he fueled himself.
Maybe it was just a great stage for the lesser-used players to shine. But even though Matthews said it felt good to break a cold patch, it would have meant little if the Lakers hadn’t won the game.
“That was a character win,” he said. “We showed who we can be, who we are, who are capable of. That team is a hell of a team.”
— NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2021
“We have to start thinking more as a team rather than individual guys. You play 0 or 20 minutes, the team’s success is everyone’s success.” @MarcGasol talks with @LakersReporter following his effective night off the bench for the #LakeShow. pic.twitter.com/ZDOsIzRK4z
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) May 4, 2021
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) May 4, 2021
Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol help lift Lakers past Nuggets for needed win – Daily News Source link Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol help lift Lakers past Nuggets for needed win – Daily News