By Mark Medina
May 20, 2012, 7:28 a.m.
The press began to scatter soon after the Lakers' 103-100 Game 4 loss to Oklahoma City, leaving Pau Gasol all alone as he stood by his locker.
Alone with his regret over committing a costly turnover that contributed to the Lakers squandering a fourth-quarter lead for the second time in three games. Alone with his frustration that the public would focus on that specific play when many others beforehand also fueled the unraveling.
But Metta World Peace had waited patiently so he could approach Gasol once he completed his own media grilling. When that moment came, World Peace hugged him.
See, Lakers guard Steve Blake had just picked up Russell Westbrook's loose ball as he slipped on the Staples Center floor and believed they could break a 98-98 tie with under a minute remaining. So Kobe Bryant and Gasol ran a pick-and-roll that set the Lakers' forward with an open shot. Instead of taking it though, Gasol kicked the ball out to World Peace across the middle of the floor.
But Thunder forward Kevin Durant stole the pass and drilled a 26-foot three-pointer, and the Lakers' 3-1 series deficit to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals pretty much became official.
"I support him," World Peace said moments earlier. "I'll take the blame. Maybe I should've cut. He saw me open, I should've cut. It's my fault."
It was touching. World Peace, who scored 14 points on an efficient four-of-eight clip from three-point range, could've deflected blame. But he took it. The episode was also sad. World Peace's reaction juxtaposed against the blame-game the rest of the Lakers' stars instantly started.
"It was a bad read," Bryant said about Gasol's turnover. "It was a bad read on Pau's part."
Bryant's 38 points were marvelous, but his two-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter proved destructive. Yet, he took zero responsibility for that and instead used his platform to call out Gasol.
"Pau has got to be more assertive; he's got to be more aggressive," Bryant said. "He's looking to swing the ball too much. He just has to shoot it."
Gasol, who scored only 10 points on four-of-10 shooting and had zero attempts in the fourth quarter, took responsibility for the turnover. "I could've taken a shot," he said. "If I could go back, I probably would have."
But he didn't take responsibility for the loss. "I don't feel like we lost the game on one turnover," Gasol said.
It was only an hour-and-a-half before the game that Lakers Coach Mike Brown shared his message to Gasol: "You've got to get a little selfish."But the Lakers forward also appeared to agree with a reporter's assessment that he's been asked this season to play more of a facilitating role that often remains undefined. Gasol also mentioned multiple times on how the "lack of ball movement" repeatedly led to a "stagnant offense."
When I asked where Bryant's poor shooting marks in the fourth quarter come into play in contributing to the stagnant offense, Gasol offered a response as passive as his own performance.
"Obviously Kobe had a good game as far as scoring and being aggressive," Gasol said. "Unfortunately, he wasn't as effective as he was down the stretch as he was earlier in the game. He got 38 points. It's a big night individually. We look at this as a whole. It's not about one player missing a couple shots or turning the ball over, whatever it is. We have to look at it so we don't put ourselves in that position again so we get some better looks, better balance, better flow and better ball movement. When we move the ball well, we shift their defense. We get better positions and we're more effective. That's something we need to continue to think about."
As much as it sounded as if Gasol wanted to ensure no finger-pointing, he revealed his true feelings in a reporter's follow-up question on why the offense becomes stagnant at such inopportune moments late in the game.
"It's hard to say," Gasol said. "We want the ball in Kobe's hands, but it doesn't necessarily need to be so early in the shot clock. We can get there later in the shot clock when the ball has moved and changed sides to the floor instead of being there from the beginning."
The Lakers agreed on why that didn't happen. Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum all lamented the Lakers center continually getting fronted from the Thunder in the post. But the reasons for that vary. Bryant noted the lack of aggressiveness spurred him to take "difficult shots," Gasol conceded struggling setting up Bynum without throwing a bad pass. Bynum, whose two field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter overshadowed his 18 points, didn't specifically fault anyone. But everyone knows who he's referring to Bryant in the following sentence.
"I couldn't get the ball. I wasn't part of the game," Bynum said. "We need to slow down the game, go side to side. We can cut them to pieces. You can't keep running the same plays.''
As far as World Peace?
He avoided piling on Gasol. World Peace wasn't about to pinpoint blame on Bryant.
"He has five championship rings," World Peace said. "He helped me get one. He definitely knows. He knows what's going on out there."
But he's not exactly innocent, either, suggesting that Mike Brown's playcalling contributed to the Lakers blowing a 13-point lead.
"Both games we were winning together," World Peace said. "Then when we started to call so many plays, that's where we got hurt a little bit. Everything happened naturally. That's when we built our lead because they don't know where it's coming from."
Still, World Peace remained the lone Laker into centering collective blame.
"It's a loss we all contributed to," World Peace said. "Every person that's under the Laker organization. Myself and everybody. We all have to go to OKC and we have to get a win. All of us."
Yes, it will require a team effort to win Game 5 on Monday to avoid elimination and become the ninth team out of 209 in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit. But with the Lakers hardly acting like a team afterward, it's hard to believe they suddenly will become one.
That's why World Peace's hug to Gasol might not just be a nice gesture that's lifting a teammate in need. It could be a parting goodbye shortly before an adversarial season comes crashing to an end.
Wow glad we don't have to hear this from our players.... BTW Eddie when I saw that bench chill at the start of the 3rd 1/4 I called my wife in and pointed out the diference between Blake head in hands and Vinnie nervously drawing to the park bench up the other end, you know they are going to take care of business from there.
........ And World Peace
They asked Tony at the end of the game on court interview why they were sitting down chilling and all relaxed at halftime. He said that this team is confident and doesn't panic.
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