Months ago when the NBA season was yet to begin, the talk around the Los Angeles Lakers was about their depth. Sure, they were coming off a championship run in which both LeBron James and Anthony Davis played like the best players in the world. But the favoritism of the purple and gold making a repeat run seemed to hinge on new role player pieces like Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol.
Cut to May, and that depth could have been seen as a slight issue, even with a slew of injuries across the roster. Mid-season additions Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore were, at least momentarily, favored by head coach Frank Vogel over Matthews and Gasol and those rotational decisions have come under lots of fire.
After Monday’s massive, three-game losing streak snapping win over the Denver Nuggets, perhaps the Twitter masses can feel vindicated. With Drummond facing foul trouble against presumptive MVP favorite Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol was called on to make just his fifth appearance in the last 14 games and he did not disappoint.
Gasol finished as a game-high +17 in the Lakers’ 93-89 win, giving Jokic, who scored 32 points but had to take 28 shots to get there, about as much trouble as one could expect. Jokic himself reminded everyone after the game about Gasol’s defensive ability, though he exaggerated the big man’s defensive player of the year trophies by one:
Nikola Jokic: “I think we all forget who Marc Gasol is. The guy who won two defensive players of the year.”
— Mike Singer (@msinger) May 4, 2021
Offensively, Gasol was just as crucial. In a gritty, defensive matchup and with the Lakers missing their best playmakers in James and Schröder, it was Gasol setting up the offense, getting players in the right spots and keeping the ball moving. He added three makes from behind the arc, the catalyst behind the few minutes of offensive explosion that the Lakers mustered. In the 17 minutes that Gasol was on the court against the Nuggets, the Lakers scored 129.4 points per 100 possessions. In the 31 minutes without the Spanish veteran, their offensive rating was a measly 80.3.
TFW Marc's splashing 3s and firing outlets. pic.twitter.com/teFIShcTYS
— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) May 4, 2021
Gasol followed up his mature play on the court with a sincere and mature media session after the game, downplaying his impact against Jokic and crediting the whole team instead. And while he showed his frustration early on with the Drummond signing and his role diminishing, Gasol seemed much more at peace with it on Monday night, claiming that the “team’s success is everyone’s success” while comparing his current role to Wolf from Pulp Fiction, coming in to clean up a mess.
Gasol was not the only Lakers veteran to make an impact on the game. Wesley Matthews, who had missed five of the last six games due to the addition of McLemore into the rotation, came in for a 17 minute cameo of his own and in one short burst in the third quarter, he scored eight points – including two threes followed by his trademark bow and arrow celebration – and showing the defensive stability the Lakers have missed with their new marksman.
Much like Gasol, Matthews had an incredible post game media session with an answer about the Lakers’ ups and downs that might just get you excited about Lakers basketball again:
“Patience. Patience. It’s work, confidence. You got to keep going. You just got to keep going and it’s made me more of a believer in faith. You can’t see it; faith is blind. But you know it’s there and you just got to keep going. You got to keep going every single day and you got to keep doing what you do, whatever that is. Whether that’s taking care of your body, getting up extra shots. Whether that’s going and lifting, whether that’s cardio, whatever it is. You got to keep going and that’s just a lesson that I’ve already known but it has been amplified and it applies to anything.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done for the Lakers as they navigate their seeding battles and aim to ramp up ahead of the postseason. But for at least one night, we got a reminder of last year’s run with Anthony Davis showing his two-way dominance but the role players – and in this case, two that had been out of the team’s rotation – coming up big to secure a win over a quality opponent.
And maybe, we’ll get to see something that special once again.