TORONTO – Marc Gasol left Milwaukee last week disappointed, both in the Raptors’ 2-0 deficit and his lackluster performance.
In the first two games of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, Gasol was 3-for-20 from the field and a defensive liability.
That’s not why the Raptors acquired him at the trade deadline, sacrificing depth for a proven playoff center who can anchor a defense and facilitate offense from the perimeter with his passing, shooting and screens.
“I was especially disappointed because my offense affected my defense,” Gasol said. “That’s something to me that is unacceptable. Whatever is going on offensively, you cannot allow it to affect your defense, because your teammates rely on you so much defensively. That’s why I was so hard on myself.
“You’re going to feel pretty crappy for 48 hours. That’s the way it is. You have to deal with it, face it and accept it.”
Raptors center Marc Gasol passes the ball during Toronto's Game 4 win of the Eastern Conference Finals. (Photo: John E. Sokolowski, USA TODAY Sports)
Disappointment jump-started motivation. Gasol knew he needed to play better for the Raptors to have a chance of winning this series against the Bucks and advancing to the NBA Finals. (Gasol’s brother, Pau, plays for Milwaukee but is sidelined after having foot surgery this month.)
In Game 3, Gasol had 16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and a steal, and in Game 4 on Tuesday, he had 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He was 7-for-14 on 3-pointers in the two Toronto home games.
Not coincidentally, the Raptors evened the series, and Game 5 is Thursday in Milwaukee. (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
“He’s been around a long time,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He knows he can play and impact this game and impact this series in a big fashion.”
The question now: Can Gasol, 34 and a three-time All-Star who has never played in the NBA Finals, carry that type of performance into a road game?
The differences between home and road are stark for both teams, and Gasol is a microcosm of that. In the first two games, the Raptors scored 95.2 points and allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the court. In the next two games, Toronto scored 104.5 points and allowed 98.1 points per 100 possessions.
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That home-road difference has been an issue throughout the playoffs for Gasol. In nine home games, he averages 10.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists and shoots 47.1 percent from the field and 46.5 percent on three-pointers. In seven road games: seven points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists while shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 23.8 percent on 3-pointers.
Gasol has a tough defensive assignment. He has to help protect the paint, but he also has to defend Milwaukee’s 3-point shooters, especially center Brook Lopez. It requires effort and concentration, and Nurse gently called out Gasol after Game 2 for not closing out better on a Nikola Mirotic 3-point attempt.
“If you don’t go with everything you’ve got and jump high and really try to let them know you’re right pressed up against them, then the chances of them going in are pretty good,” Nurse said. “Not picking on Marc.”
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Between Games 2 and 3, Nurse talked with Gasol.
“It wasn’t like a soul-searching,” Nurse said. “I didn’t have to do a whole lot. I said, ‘Listen, you are a great player, because my definition of a great player is you make all the other people around you better, and there’s nobody else I’d rather go out there with than you.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to play great the next game.’ So his confidence didn’t waver.”
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry never lost trust in Gasol, either.
“Never any doubt, that’s one thing,” Lowry said. “Two, what I’ve seen is him being aggressive, being assertive, catching-and-shooting, shooting the trail threes. Not worrying about it. Just catching-and-shooting. He watched the film. He sees the shots that he has available, and he’s been taking them.
“I think he still can do a little bit more offensively. He’s been unbelievable defensively helping and getting back out to Brook and not letting Brook get shots off. And just trying to be there to help everybody.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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