As the clock ticked away in what could’ve become an unbelievable comeback, the Lakers bench stood on their feet and awaited the anticipation.
Except for one.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol sat on the bench and stayed there. Sometimes Gasol stared at the ground. Sometimes he glanced at the scoreboard. Sometimes he looked straight ahead.
It didn’t change the circumstances.
The Lakers 107-102 loss Friday to the Clippers featured Gasol staying off the court for most of the fourth quarter after posting only two points on 1 of 6 shooting and four rebounds.
“It’s difficult for a player like me to do that,” Gasol said. “You try to accept certain things. If the team is playing well and the team is coming back and they’re making a run, you have to be okay with that. The first thing is the team.”
Clearly, it wasn’t though.
Even when Kobe Bryant made a baseline jumper that cut the Clippers’ lead to 99-97 with 1:44 remaining, Gasol didn’t stand up. The Lakers forward eventually did once the team gathered during a timeout after that play. But Gasol tempered his dissatisfaction afterwards when he was asked if he wants to be traded.
“No that’s radical,” Gasol said. “I still believe and have faith here and I still have faith I can play a big part in helping this team succeed right now. I’m not able to do that every often.”
Gasol certainly didn’t against the Clippers, a game that provided fuel for both his supporters and critics.
After playing in the high post for the past week, Gasol suddenly played in the corner with no active role in offense. Yet, he also showed little aggression or effort into providing any semblance of energy.
“He just didn’t have a good game,” was all Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni would say.
Gasol said much more than that, addressing frustrations for his role for about 10 minutes. That was far more than the final minute he played in the fourth quarter because Dwight Howard fouled out and Jordan Hill nursed a right ankle injury.
“It’s difficult sometimes because it’s not up to me to get involved,” said Gasol, who’s averaged a career-low 12.2 points on 41.2 percent shooting. “I’m trying. When I’m at the elbows, I can get more involved and make more plays from there. It’s not consistent. Just try to get a feel for the game. Some nights it goes one way, the other nights it goes another. It’s hard to find that consistency.”
But to what degree did Gasol’s poor play against the Clippers reflect his effort level more than how D’Antoni has featured him in the offense?
“I try to give as much effort as I can,” he said. “I try to stay as active as I can. It’s been hard to find that consistency.”
Kobe Bryant has often mixed his praise and criticism toward Gasol. On some nights, Bryant simply argues Gasol has to adjust to the circumstances. On others, Bryant conveys his hope that D’Antoni features Gasol more inside, just like they did when the Lakers won two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010. After the Clippers loss, the Lakers’ star made it crystal clear that the team’s development hinges more on D’Antoni adjusting his system to fit Gasol’s needs than Gasol changing to fit D’Antoni’s.
“We need to go through him a lot a lot more,” Bryant said. “He needs more touches in the elbow and on the post. He’s not a scorer type of person. He’ll be the first person to admit that. But he can create plays for others down there. He can control the game from down there. We have to figure out a way to get him more activated.”
Bryant understands the difficulty in doing this considering Gasol and Howard have to share the floor. But Bryant sounded so adamant about Gasol playing more inside that he conceded he’ll address this issue directly to D’Antoni.
“We’ll talk about it more tomorrow,” Bryant said.
In fact, D’Antoni has already talked with Gasol.
The Lakers forward voiced displeasure for sitting the final 2 minutes, 36 seconds in the Lakers’ 101-100 win Dec. 18 against the Charlotte Bobcats, a game that marked his return after missing the previous eight contests because of knee tendinitis.
D’Antoni followed up by having dinner with him at a Manhattan Beach restaurant the following night, talking about finding the right balance that fits his fast-paced, perimeter-based offense while maximizing Gasol’s post presence.
Soon after, it appeared the Lakers featured Gasol more in the high post.
He threw down a thunderous dunk in what cemented the Lakers’ 100-94 win Christmas Day over New York. Gasol made two 3-pointers in two consecutive games. He also went on a five-game tear where he logged at least five assists.
Against the Clippers, though, Gasol looked nonexistent.
“We’re all trying to figure things out right now,” Gasol said. “It seems like there’s a struggle a little bit with what’s going on. I’m sure [D'Antoni] is too. I’m not sure that’s one of the first things that crosses his mind.”
But it certainly has crossed the mind of Lakers guard Steve Nash.
“I’m here to support him and try to find his best looks,” Nash said. “It’s tough for him when things aren’t going for him and he’s struggling a little bit. I just have to support him. Six months ago he was unbelievable at the Olympics. It’s still in there somewhere.”
There’s one difference. Gasol thrived in the 2012 London Games for his native Spain as a post player.
“Pau has to continue to be patient,” Bryant said. “He’s obviously frustrated and has every right to be. I’m frustrated for him. That’s something we’ll have to solve because we’re not going to get to where we want to go with him not playing at maximum potential or using his maximum potential.”
That hasn’t happened yet.
Gasol lamented that his success solely rests on whether he hits jump shots. He refused to pin his plantar fasciitis in his right as a reason for his poor play. Gasol’s late-game absence marked the fourth game this has happened to him this season. Though he conceded, “I don’t make the calls,” Gasol suggested he’s going to take matters into his own hands.
“I have to have more initiative,” Gasol said. “I can’t wait for other people to make certain decisions for me. I’ll have to make them myself. That’s a little uncharacteristic of me. But right now, I feel I have no other choice if I want to be more effective.”
Gasol didn’t show that effectiveness against the CLippers, earning himself a place on the Lakers’ bench. That left him at a place wondering where it all went wrong.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org