A sullen Pau Gasol walked down a hallway in Staples Center wondering aloud if he will overcome a respiratory illness that has affected his breathing.
Moments before, though, the Lakers forward proved he could.
The Lakers’ 105-103 victory Sunday over the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center featured Gasol making two key free throws and blocking Kyle Korver’s last-second jumper. That provided solace to an otherwise challenging night. He sat until 5:40 remained in the game once Shawne Williams fouled out. Gasol’s 16 points also featured an uncharacteristic 5 of 18 mark from the field.
“I’m fighting through it, but I want to be out there as much as I can,” Gasol said. “I just can’t sustain the energy for as long as I want to. We have to step up down the stretch. I had to make sure I was involved and alert and ready to make plays.”
How long Gasol will have to handle this remains to be seen. He said in a private moment that he started feeling symptoms following the team’s opening season win last week over the Clippers. What started out as a common cold during the Lakers’ loss last Wednesday to Golden State soon morphed into an issue where his fatigue level wanes because of his breathing issues. For now, Gasol has taken antibiotics in hopes the symptoms disappear.
After all, Kobe Bryant remains sidelined with a torn left Achilles tendon and Steve Nash’s 13 points effort on 5 of 13 shooting marked a small step in improving his rhythm. That leaves Gasol with plenty of responsibility in carrying the Lakers.
Gasol shot just 5-for-18 but had 16 points and 13 rebounds.
“I don’t care if a guy shoots good or not. He got tired, he’s been fighting some respiratory stuff and it looked like the air went out of him a little bit,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Gasol. “I knew I was going to finish with him so get him to where he can get through rthew last five minutes. We’re going to have to go through him toward the end of the game so he’s going to have to have his legs. We’re going to have to save his legs a little bit to get there and how he feels and everything.”
The strategy paid off.
First, Gasol made up for his poor shooting percentage by grabbing 13 rebounds. Gasol then drew a foul on Hawks forward Paul Millsap shortly before finding an open Jordan Hill that could’ve given the Lakers a two-point lead with six seconds left. But tension rose when officials reviewed the call.
“I definitely thought it was a block,” Gasol said. “I thought he didn’t have time to come out of that circle. He slit right underneath me when I was in the air. I thought it was a pretty easy call. Obviously it’s down the stretch and a critical moment. So they had to go and recheck it. I was pretty comfortable and confident.”
Gasol also said he felt confident knocking down the subsequent free throws.
“I wanted to make sure I knocked those two down and focus intently,” Gasol said. “The game is on the line. I had to make up for all the other shots that I missed tonight.”
Gasol then made up for all the other shots the Lakers left open for Korver, who scored a team-high 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting and 6 of 6 from three-point range. As soon as the Hawks inbounded the ball to Korver on the nearside, the 7’1″ Gasol leaped out of the paint to block the potential game-tying jumper.
“I didn’t know if they’d go for a two or a three,” Gasol said. “I knew that Korver was a hot hand. I had to make sure I covered him. They used to run a play where Korver goes off and Horford dives to the basket and they get a quick easy two. I was aware of both options. Once I saw Korver and the ball going to him, I went for the block.”
And with that, Gasol secured the Lakers’ victory, giving him temporary relief on a night his respiratory illness worsened. Shortly afterwards, Gasol walked down the hallway expressing hope he can leave his illness behind.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org