Lakers win despite soft frontcourt
LOS ANGELES -- Pau Gasol has a virus. And he has infected Lamar Odom with it too.
This virus, I'm told by experts, has several different names. It has been called the "defenseless disease" and "turnstile syndrome." In some circles it is known simply as "SDP" which, I've been told, is an acronym for "super-duper soft."
What are the symptoms? A complete disregard for defense is one. Gasol has had the bug since the second round, when Mehmet Okur lit him up for 17.7 points per game. It spread in the conference finals when Tim Duncan rang up 22.4 points and 17.4 rebounds against the Lakers' center. And it's definitely still with him. Kevin Garnett knows it. Why else would Garnett, whose comfort zone is 15-18 feet away from the basket, lament not taking the ball to the rim more, as he did after the Lakers' 87-81 victory in Game 3?
Odom? He's been lucky. He has only had it for the last three games. The indicator for Odom was the 21 points Celtics reserve forward Leon Powe put on him and the Lakers in Game 2.
Coming into the Finals, there was no question who was the more physical team. Boston had Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Powe and P.J. Brown to dispatch in waves. The Lakers? Their muscle consists of Gasol, Odom and Ronny Turiaf.
Still, no one could have anticipated that Boston could be this dominant on the inside. While the Lakers have been able to keep the overall rebounding margin close (Boston holds a 128-113 edge through three games), that doesn't tell the whole story. Simply put, Boston has been the tougher team.
The slender Garnett has bullied Gasol on the inside. When Gasol steps out to defend Garnett on the perimeter, Garnett has the option of simply dropping his shoulder to get to the basket. Gasol's only reprieve is that Garnett doesn't do it on every possession.
Of greater concern to the Lakers is that this disease is starting to spread to the offense. Odom (four points on 2-for-9 shooting) and Gasol (nine points on 3-for-9) looked depleted in Game 3, a probable byproduct of the physical beating they have endured. Jump shots came up short. Exposed dribbles led to steals. At times, both Gasol and Odom looked relieved when a Boston possession ended with a jump shot.
Matching the Celtics' physicality is out of the question. The Lakers, outside of Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, are not built to play that style. But if the Lakers are to send this series back to Boston, they are going to have to find some way to counter the Celtics' advantage on the inside. Maybe playing Turiaf more is the answer, though the energetic forward put up double zeros in the scoring and rebounding department in Game 3. Or giving some early minutes to 7-foot, 265-pound backup center Chris Mihm. Hey, Lakers consultant Tex Winter thinks it's a good idea.
Something has to happen. Because for the Lakers, this illness could be fatal.