Late in the second quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinal between the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and the No. 5 Utah Jazz there was a fleeting but possibly revealing moment involving L.A. power forward Pau Gasol.
With less than a minute to play in the second quarter and the Jazz at the line, Phil Jackson sent reserve big Josh Powell in for Pau, who would get an early start on his halftime rest. As Powell was introduced, TNT announcer Dick Stockton noted that "Pau Gasol should get a hand as he leaves the game."
Stockton noted this because the Spaniard had scored 9 of the Lakers' previous 11 points and assisted on the other made bucket. He'd also grabbed a passel of offensive rebounds and been every bit the player that had previously inspired heretofore unheard phrasings from the ABC/ESPN announcing crew of Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen earlier in the playoffs. Much to Jackson's bemusement, Van Gundy had described Pau as "ridiculously multi-faceted." Van Gundy had also marveled at the long-limbed Gasol's ability to make passes that "most point guards can't make."
Stockton and his play-by-play partner Mike Fratello had been generous, albeit less creative than JVG, in their praise through nearly two quarters of Game 2. In other words, nearly all the men assigned to cover the Lakers-Jazz games had been abuzz with praise for Gasol and just beside themselves with admiration. Lakers fans, though, are not nearly as impressed. To Stockton's surprise, there was barely any audible recognition that Pau was coming out of the game.
Stockton quickly covered for the fans at the Staples Center, claiming that they would voice their appreciation for Pau later in the night. But it seems quite clear that those on the outside looking in are far more enamored with Pau than those paying for purple and gold foam fingers. For them, it's still Kobe and Ko-company.
And not only does Pau not get much applause from Lakers fans as he comes off the floor, but he seems to have to pressure the guy sitting adjacent to the bench (who I think is Kobe's dad) to even give him a fist bump. So, I guess in one regard, Stockton was right. Pau got a hand when he left the game. He got one hand from one reluctant dude for a fist bump.
No. 24 may be the closer on the Lakers (even though Pau actually closed out the first round series). He may be the best closer in the game. Possibly the best since Michael Jordan. But he's not the player that makes this iteration of the Lakers the best since the Batman and Robin salad days of the early 2000s. Nope. It's Pau.
According to the statisticians at Basketball-Reference, Pau has 1.6 Win Shares during this postseason. Kobe has 0.8 Win Shares. It's a complicated stat that accounts for how many wins a particular player is actually worth to a team. This postseason, Pau has doubled up Kobe. And he's been the fourth best in all the postseason by this measure after Lebron, Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson.
He is, as JVG said, ridiculously multi-faceted. He scores better than 18 a game, grabs more than 13 boards, hands out more than 3 assists and blocks at least one shot nearly every game. He runs out on the break. He chases back on defense. And he takes far too many glares from Kobe each and every game. He's hit his free throws at nearly 80 percent and making more than 50% of his field goal attempts. He's up near the top of the leaderboards in offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds. He wants the ball but he doesn't need plays called for him to score game-winning buckets.