Lakers History: Pau Returns to Memphis, Wins Gasol Derby After Late L.A. Comeback

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

Some games transcend what’s at stake on that particular night.

A family from Spain, two franchises and one traded that altered the course of history – all came together on the night of December 22, 2008.

Some 10 months earlier, the Lakers had acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, and part of the price was surrendering the rights to his brother Marc.

The purple and gold had immediately become a championship contender, losing to the Boston Celtics in the Finals. Later that summer, the Spanish duo faced against Kobe Bryant in the gold medal game at the Olympics in Beijing, with the Black Mamba coming out on top as the captained the Redeem Team and restored order for the U.S. at the international level.

This occasion, despite being a random regular season road game, packed an emotional punch. Pau was making his return to the city and team that drafted him in 2001 and where he became an All-Star for the first time. It also marked the first time he shared a court with his brother while going mano a mano.

The game itself didn’t disappoint either, despite involving the best team in the NBA and a rebuilding Memphis squad coached by Marc Iavaroni.

Excellent performances from O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay had the Grizzlies leading both at the half and at the end of the third quarter. Phil Jackson’s squad went into the game with a record of 21-5 but the upset became a real possibility when a Darko Milicic dunk put the home team up by five points with 3:30 to go in the fourth.

What happened next foreshadowed a lot of what would ensue over the next few years. Kobe took over, Pau backed him up, Derek Fisher added some timely contributions, and the Lakers escaped with the victory.

Down the stretch, Bryant hit a couple of free throws, a short jumper, a three-pointer from 25 feet, another free throw and a last-second dunk – all part of a dominant 36-point showing on 14-of-23 from the field.

“We know what we want to do,” Bryant said. “For a young team, they are still kind of searching for what that identity is going to be. For us, we've been there, done that. So, it's just a matter of how well we executed.”

Pau won the family battle after chipping in 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Marc only managed an 8-7-2 line. Far from bragging, the older brother took the high road.

“Somebody had to lose tonight, right?” Pau said. “I'm happy we came out victorious because we needed this win extremely bad to continue to pursue our goals. But I'm sorry that on the losing end were the Grizzlies and my brother.”

The Lakers continued their rampage through the league that year, winning 65 games and earning their 15th title after defeating the Orlando Magic in five games in the NBA Finals.

The following season, Gasol and Kobe repeated, becoming one of the most believed duos in the recent history of the franchise.

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