Jackson: Pau vs. KG Key to the Series
After all, it's the Lakers coach's name attached to the statistic that says so much about the ever-important opener: His teams are 47-0 when throwing the proverbial first punch.
So when Jackson shares his view on which matchup he deems most relevant for this rivalry renewed with Boston that begins Thursday, it behooves media and fans alike to listen in.
Spotlight matchup of the series, according to the Zen Master: Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Garnett.
The reason wasn't immediately clear when he answered the question amid a circus of media at the Staples Center Wednesday. The more popular face-offs being discussed were that of Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant vs. Ray Allen or perhaps even Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher.
But as Jackson is certainly aware, the Lakers' Game 1 history that Bryant himself called "impressive" and "staggering" does not include Game 1 of the 2008 Finals. The Celtics took the early lead 131-92 at TD Banknorth Garden, with Pierce's valiant second-half return from a knee injury -- or his ridiculous con job, depending on your outlook -- stealing the spotlight while Garnett having his way with the Lakers' newest Spaniard had just as, if not more, impact.
It was Garnett's best game of the six-game series, as he finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and four assists. Gasol, who had averaged 17.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks to that point in the playoffs, had just 11 points, eight rebounds, five turnovers and no blocks. It didn't get much better for the Lakers from there, as Gasol finished the series averaging 14.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocks while Garnett averaged 18.1 points, 13 rebounds and one block.
Beyond the numbers, though, Jackson surely has his eye on Gasol because he simply must be more this time around. He is past his hall pass days of two years ago, as he had played in just 27 games with the Lakers that season after being gift-wrapped from Memphis in a February trade. Conversely, Jackson knows the Celtics' heart and soul still resides in the player who insisted Wednesday that his inner "fire is still burning like hell."
Garnett was the emotional point man the last time around, the central point of a defense that was five bodies acting as one and the teary-eyed spokesman at the end when he proclaimed in victory "Anything's possible!" and "top of the world!" It hasn't been the same ride this time around, with Garnett himself calling the season "a roller coaster" that turned so unexpectedly upward after they'd gone just 15-14 during the regular season's finals stretch.
They have made it this far almost in spite of him, never more so than the Eastern Conference finals win against Orlando in which he was hardly a factor. In all, he is averaging 14.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in these playoffs. His knees have slowed his body, but the spirit of the man who was the Defensive Player of the Year for the 2007-08 campaign is the same.
"Kevin is like the force of the defense," Jackson said. "He's really the glue that kind of holds their defense together out there a lot of times with his activity level, his ability to help and recover on guys. Pau is like the guy that we have to have to be part of the scoring combo that we've had with Kobe and Pau. So he has to provide some of that for us in this series against probably one of the top defenders in the game."
Only Gasol knows if Garnett crawled inside his head the last time they met on this stage. He tries the head games with every foe, trash talking incessantly in his infamous misdirected way with some of his verbal spewing at himself and most at the opponent.
When asked about Garnett's style, Gasol, whose increased gumption was best reflected in his occasional complaints aimed at Bryant this season that he wasn't involved enough offensively, said he doesn't plan on being psychologically rattled.
"Not lately," he said when asked if Garnett has talked trash in their more recent matchups. "I don't feel like he talks that much to me. I think it was at an earlier stage he did because that's kind of his game to certain guys, that he likes to intimidate you like that verbally or physically. But I haven't felt that.
"To be honest, I don't pay a lot of attention to that. I'm just trying to play my game and don't let any of that (bother me). If anything, I try for that to motivate me and actually get me pissed; pissed off and really attack him. ...You've still got to attack. You can't be hesitant. You can't be reluctant to get into the paint. I think that's one of the main things, just keep attacking them."
Garnett, the 15-year veteran who is well aware that a second Celtics title in three years would be among the more memorable stories in league history, promised that he'll be ready.
"When I'm done with this game, I want them to be able to say I gave it everything," Garnett said. "That's not to say you won't catch me at a YMCA somewhere or a boys club, but everybody's story and everybody's time how they get places is different.
"Somehow, someway, you make it through it. In some weird way, you gain tough skin through it. And also, you learn from it. We've also learned and applied what we've learned in these playoffs."
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