The eyes lit up on Pau Gasol’s face. His smile widened. And then in a moment that perhaps marked the most fun he has experienced all year, Gasol lowered his 7-foot frame and held out three fingers as he slapped hands with Nick Young.
Yup, the Lakers’ 104-91 victory Friday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center didn’t just create good vibes as they survived what many presumed would mark the end of the season stemmed from Kobe Bryant’s six game absence because of a fractured left knee. The game featured pure joy stemmed from endless teamwork and positive energy. And for Gasol, that moment reached its peak when he hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired that put the Lakers up 95-89 with 3:59 remaining and then imitated Young’s dance.
“When I turned, he was right there in my face,” said Gasol, after posting a near triple-double in points (21 on 10-of-15 shooting), rebounds (13) and assists (eight). “He got me going. I appreciate it so I gave him his celebration when he hits his shots and his 3’s. We had some fun. That’s important for our team, especially with everything we’ve gone through.”
That goes beyond the Lakers weathering another prolonged absence from Bryant.
For Gasol, he’s only a week removed from both lamenting how Mike D’Antoni’s offense doesn’t feature him enough in the post and weathering the Lakers’ latest effort in fielding trade offers for him.
But none of that seemed to matter in the Lakers’ win over Minnesota.
“I had a lot of fun tonight,” Gasol said. “I look forward toward continuing to have fun.”
Gasol provided a pretty good blueprint to follow.
He showed a deft of moves in the post and on pick-and-rolls. Gasol sank mid-range jumpers. He converted on hook shots. Gasol played the facilitating role along the elbows.
Gasol has shown all of these qualities before, enough to secure two NBA championships and four All-Star appearances. But never has Gasol gone through a stretch where he’s displayed all those elements until now. Ever since complaining about his role last week, Gasol has averaged 17.4 points on 59.4 percent shooting and 9.2 rebounds through five games.
“It’s been an evolution and continuity of the last couple of games that I played,” Gasol said. “I want to continue to improve and play well. If I do that, I know I’m going to have fun because I also will help our team win games.”
It hardly looked as if Gasol had much fun earlier this season.
He often settled for mid-range jumpers. Gasol rarely dove toward the basket off off pick-and-rolls. He routinely failed both to rotate on his opponent and guard him with physical force. After each missed shot or missed defensive assignment, Gasol showed a frustrated look on his face.
Against Minnesota, Gasol only showed smiles.
“That’s how you should play,” D’Antoni said. “This should be fun. They have the best jobs in the world, other than maybe mine. It’s fun. If it isn’t fun, then something’s wrong. You go from there to put your heart and soul into it and do everything you can in being a good teammate. It’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
Such as Gasol imitating Young’s signature celebration in a moment filled with elation.
“You see Pau doing the “Swaggy P” out there?” Young said. “That’s big time.”
Follow L.A. Daily Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org