Containing Gasol a Tall Order for Perkins, C’s
WALTHAM - Pau Gasol is not the MVP. The Los Angeles Lakers are Kobe Bryant's team, and as such, demand that the Celtics' defensive game plan rotates around him. But upon his arrival in early February, Gasol did what Kobe could not do by himself -- transformed the Lakers into NBA Finals contenders.
Because now they've got a post player who can eat you up.
Kendrick Perkins matched up against Pau Gasol in January before he was traded to the Lakers in February.
"It's a totally different team, by far, now that Pau Gasol [is] there," Sam Cassell said. "They got inside presence now in that guy and he's playing good for them."
When the Lakers lost budding young center Andrew Bynum to a knee injury, they acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for a package including Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and two first-round draft picks, giving them their most dominant big since Shaquille O'Neal was sent to South Beach.
Dominance, however, is a relative term. Gasol is not a physical enigma like O'Neal. The 2006 All-Star possesses an array of quick post moves and a deft passing touch which, combined with a buttery jumper, makes him a threat both on his own or playing off Kobe anywhere within the arc. But don't confuse finesse with 'soft;' Gasol -- averaging 17.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists in the playoffs -- will not hesitate to dunk on you, as the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs have all learned.
"Gasol was the key to the San Antonio series, he killed them on the glass," Kendrick Perkins said.
The seven-footer's combination of inside-out skills is similar to those of Atlanta's Al Horford, Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Detroit's Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess. Considering he defended all four in previous round, the comparisons make Perkins' job a little bit easier -- or at least well prepared.
"I don't think he's different from Sheed and McDyess last series. That was a good test for me," Perkins said. "[Gasol is] a little longer than me, so I've got to use my size. He opens up the floor, he can shoot, he can put it on the floor, and he knows the game, he's a very smart player. Really, he's like a guard. You just can't overplay him."
The second round test against LeBron James and Ilgauskas proved that overhelping can be a bullet in the toe. Though James was held to poor shooting thanks to Perkins and Kevin Garnett's help defense, Ilgauskas was routinely left open for jumpers -- as was McDyess against Detroit. Strategically, that can be something Doc Rivers is willing to give up on occasion, but Gasol will punish overeager defenders by earning high-percentage shots in the lane (53% from the field in the postseason).
If Perkins can keep the two-inches-taller Gasol from scoring in the paint while helping on Kobe, he will have done his job. And, like he mentioned, there's no better way to do that than by showing LA's center what it means to get down, Perkins-style.
To be a factor against the opposing center, Perkins must be on the court. He seems to have shaken his propensity for early fouls -- not to mention late technicals -- and turned in his best stretch of the playoffs. Perkins has turned in 11.8 points and 9.8 boards over the last four contests and is displaying an improved shot which, if anything, will keep Gasol from taking his defensive duties off.
"He's not allowing things that he can't control affect his game," Rivers said. "The last four games, his focus has been when someone shoots it, it's [his] ball live."
That focus must expand, because whenever Gasol is on the floor, that's Perkins' man, and often his alone. The fifth-year center doesn't see anything wrong with that.
"I feel like I've been in this position before," he said. "I'm real comfortable right now to be honest."