No Laker came into Thursday's Game 1 with more lingering questions about his basketball manhood than Pau Gasol. Despite handling rough-and-tumble physical types like Kenyon Martin and Dwight Howard en route to a title last season, making a second consecutive All-Star team this year, and again performing well through L.A.'s playoff run, the stain of the 2008 Finals- particularly Game 6- hasn't completely scrubbed off.
No question, Gasol had moments two years ago where he clearly wasn't as physically robust as the situation required, but he was also marked all series by Kevin Garnett (who won a DPOY award that season) and Kendrick Perkins (a pretty formidable body down low). It certainly wasn't a situation so cut-and-dried as Gasol withering in the moment, but fair and nuance don't necessarily dominate when sports through-lines are created. Thus the universality of the "Gasoft" tag.
Last night, with 23 points and 14 boards, he went a long way towards answering those questions. In the postgame report, I noted two plays in the third quarter demonstrating his impact on the proceedings, along with high praise from Boston coach Doc Rivers.
For an even clearer demonstration of what made Gasol so effective in Game 1, check out this video, another great piece of work from TrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz. (In a neat bit of serendipity, he includes among the plays in the package the pair I wrote about.)
Arnovitz does a great job demonstrating why Pau and Kobe Bryant work so well together. It's not simply that both have enormous skills- so do other tandems across the league. You'd be hard-pressed, though, to find a pairing with more on-floor intelligence.
It's obviously too early in the series to draw hard conclusions, whether about Pau, Bryant's ability to break down the Celtics, or anything else. But if this is the level of performance the Lakers will get from Gasol going forward, and given how consistently good he's been as a Laker, it wouldn't be out of character, L.A. is going to be very hard to take down.