Posted May 12 2010 10:00PM
Forty-five minutes after sharing the big stage in the Lakers' Game 4 clincher over the Utah Jazz, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol shared a small folding table in the interview room.
As comfortable as they were on the floor, they combined for 65 points in the Lakers' 111-96 win, they were just as comfortable sharing the spotlight off of it.
In the past, neither of them would have been nearly as comfortable as they were Monday night. Gasol struggled to adjust to the glare when he was the bell cow for the Memphis Grizzlies. And Bryant always bristled at sharing the spotlight with Shaquille O'Neal when they were leading the Lakers' title three-peat at the start of the decade.
Somehow they've both managed to adjust and thrive as the Lakers' and perhaps the league's most dynamic duo.
"Kobe is arguably the best player in the league," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "And [Gasol] has to be what, one of the top five big men on the planet. That's a pretty tough combination to deal with, I don't care who you are."
The Phoenix Suns await in the Western Conference finals. And they have a dynamic duo of their own in two-time MVP Steve Nash and perennial All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire, who just like their Lakers' counterparts have fueled their team's run to the showdown that awaits.
If their performance in that Game 4 win over the Jazz is any indication, Bryant and Gasol are just getting started with what they can do. Gasol scored 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, while Bryant added 32, four assists and three rebounds.
"Pau had a really terrific game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Kobe was persistent, aggressive and stayed how he is in the course of the second half to carry the lead."
The fact is, Bryant and Gasol are playing some of the best basketball of their two-plus year union, a cosmic marriage of passionate and cultured men that has produced back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
They already have one title to show for it, having knocked off the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals last year, and have the Lakers prepared to do whatever it takes to get another one.
"They got just about everything you want." Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said after his team was pushed aside by the Lakers. "They got experience. They got guys that are long and big and can play inside. Gasol can go inside and outside with his game and he's a terrific passer. They got all the size. They got a lot of guys that can pass the ball.
"That's a tremendous asset for any team and plus those guys have been in big games. They're tough to deal with and they put us out of sync because their defense is so good. Every shot you get is tough. They make you earn it. That's why they won the championship."
For Bryant, it's simply more of what he's always known.
He's just handling it better than ever.
It's hard to imagine him ceding as much of the spotlight as he has to Gasol, who in turn has infused the Lakers with a presence and versatility on the low block, alongside center Andrew Bynum, that was missing after O'Neal's departure and before the Spaniard's arrival on Feb. 1, 2008 in a trade-deadline deal with the Memphis.
Perhaps that has something to do with Gasol's easygoing nature. While his predecessor, O'Neal, had an ego and persona similar to Bryant's, Gasol has nothing of the sort.
After dominating the Jazz, he spent little time talking of himself and all the splendid damage he'd done in helping his team move on.
"I'm happy with the way I played," Gasol said. "But I'm more happy with the way we are playing. I think we are really doing a good job collectively, and we are improving as every game goes by and we are just getting better and better. It's really satisfying and I look forward to starting it up against a very good Phoenix team."
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