The ball softly left the sure hands of Pau Gasol, falling off the rim before the Spaniard tipped once and tipped again as the ball finally reached its destination in Game 2 against the Bucks, followed by Gasol yelling in relief and satisfaction.
But like everything else with Gasol in this series, there was a drawback—his final tip was waved off because of a loose ball foul he wasn’t involved in, negating his basket and the frustrating energy he used to score.
Gasol has been public enemy No. 1 on Jason Kidd’s defensive scheme, running double-teams so fast and furious at Gasol that he probably sees them in his sleep.
But despite shooting just 31 percent through the first two games this series, he hasn’t lashed out in frustration or tried to force his own offense. Whether it’s John Henson or Zaza Pachulia or the long-armed Giannis Antetokounmpo running at him, facing single-coverage hasn’t happened at all this series.
“The double teams, if they continue, so be it,” Gasol said. “I'm not worried about making the right play and being unselfish. If they're doubling me, there's a guy who's gonna be wide open with a better shot than I would. I'm prepared if that stops.”
They’ve made the decision that Gasol will not be the one to beat them, and even though they’ve given Derrick Rose more attention when he has the ball, they haven’t lightened up on Gasol, perhaps the greatest sign of respect. He’s used to getting doubled-up on, but it’s usually after getting off with a few easy scores and a defense adjusting to stop him.
“I just attract two defenders, which I like to do anyways,” Gasol said. “For the most part that takes sometimes you get going and score a few buckets then they make adjustments but it's been continuous and automatic since the start of the series. If that continues, I'll continue to make the right play. Even though I haven't been in a very good rhythm, somebody else will get a good shot and that's good offense.”
While the Bulls are up 2-0 and poised to take a real stronghold on the series if they can weather the emotions and energy of the Bucks tomorrow night, they haven’t been a fluid offensive group, heavily dependent on Rose and Jimmy Butler.
Rose, a player who’s never been afraid to attack double teams and force up a few shots at times, admires Gasol’s patience.
““It says a lot about his character as far as he’ll do anything to win,” Rose said. “He knows that they’re coming right away, he’s not complaining about shots, he’s not worrying about playing so many minutes. He just wants to win the game, so it rubs off on everyone. You’ve got a player like that, that’s giving himself up the way he does it shows a lot.’’
The Bulls often speak about what “the game gives you”—which sure sounds like a “Thibs-ism” or Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich saying to “play the right way”. Either way, Gasol makes it a habit of having his unselfishness lead by example.
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“It’s great having him,” Rose said. “With the way that they’re double-teaming him, they’re not even allowing him to get a good shot off. They’re coming right away, so it’s easy basketball. Two swings to an open shot, that’s the easies shot that you can get when they’re double-teaming like that.’’
They shot just 38 percent in Game 2, and one can expect the screws will be tightened even more with Nikola Mirotic out. Gasol may have to be more aggressive—and Tom Thibodeau will probably have to put Gasol in situations where he’s on the move and can score before the double teams come.
“If I can, yeah. If I can, if I get opportunities I'll be more aggressive,” Gasol said. “I'm not discontent with my level of aggressiveness, I just try to make the right play. See if I can make a couple more shots and see if I can be good.”