Right when Pau Gasol received treatment in the trainer’s room, an unexpected phone call came.
Even if he remains immobile after having surgery on his torn Achilles’ tendon, Kobe Bryant texted Lakers Gary Vitti alerting him he wanted to talk to Gasol. With the Lakers playing San Antonio Sunday in the first game since Bryant’s devastating injury, Gasol took a large step in leading the charge to fill his void. But surprisingly, Gasol’s usually reliable jump shot suddenly went astray.
So from Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, Bryant offered Gasol some trusty words of advice.
“He said to stay aggressive and not worry about the shots I did miss,” Gasol said. “Stay aggressive and continue to look at the rim and look at the shots that are there.”
Consider it done.
The Lakers’ 91-86 victory Sunday over the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center may have featured Gasol scoring only seven points on 3 of 17 shooting. But it also featured Gasol grabbing 16 rebounds and providing a defensive presence. And with that, the Lakers are within striking distance of securing the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed.
The Lakers (44-37) have a 1 1/2 game cushion over the Utah Jazz (42-38) for that spot and need a few scenarios to happen to secure it. The Lakers would clinch the playoffs with a win in their season finale Wednesday against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center. They would also secure it if the Utah Jazz lose either of their two remaining games, including tonight at Minnesota or Wednesday in Memphis.
“It was a tough shooting night for me,” Gasol said. “It was probably the worst in my entire life. But it’s one of those nights that just happened. You have to stay positive and mentally stay engaged int game and try to impact the game in different ways. That’s what I tried to do.”
It helped that the Lakers overcame Gasol’s offensive struggles. Dwight Howard dominated inside with 26 points on 9 of 15 shooting and 17 rebounds. Lakers guard Steve Blake showed more aggressiveness with 23 points on 8 of 16 shooting and four assists. Antawn Jamison showed a nice outside touch, posting 15 points partly on a 3 of 5 mark from three-point range.
More importantly, the Lakers scrapped on hustle plays. They outrebounded the Spurs, 58-46. The Lakers showed enough discipline on defense to limit San Antonio guard Tony Parker to four points on 1 of 10 shooting. As ugly as the Lakers looked, they somehow made it work.
“It was essential and crucial for us with the spirit and heart we put in,” Gasol said. “It was key for us to win the game and give us ourselves a chance to win the game. It wasn’t the sharpest night, but defensively we came out with stops and scrambled until the last second of every possession. I think that was the difference playmaker.”
Still, the Lakers would likely have trouble if they repeat such a scenario.
The Lakers had won five of their previous six games because Gasol averaged 20.4 points per game during that stretch. Chalk up Parker’s poor shooting night as a mulligan. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich also remains more concerned with fielding a healthy roster than securing a No. 1 seed.
But in the Lakers’ quest in somehow pursuing a championship without Kobe Bryant, they somehow figured it out in an odd and messy sort of way.
“It is frustrating when the ball doesn’t go in like it usually does,” Gasol said. “But you have to keep playing and shake it off and affect the game in whichever way you can defensively, getting rebounds and making plays for others and being aggressive. I tried to be aggressive with the ball. It woudn’t sit. Luckily my teammates made some shots and they were more effective and sharper than I was offensively.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org