Pau Gasol stars in Spain victory over Brazil


Sep 1

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

The FIBA Basketball World Cup is turning out to be a delight for Bulls fans. It has to be encouraging to have the most dominant player in the world tournament playing for your NBA team.

Yes, Pau Gasol is unstoppable.

Gasol, the Bulls big summer free agent acquisition, continued Monday to be the best and most dominant player in the tournament with a staggeringly impressive performance in an 82-63 win over Brazil that gave host Spain a 3-0 record. Pau Gasol scored 26 points and added nine rebounds and three blocks to continue as the leading scorer in the tournament, averaging 23.7 points per game in just under 26 minutes.

Pau also is shooting 50 percent on threes with three in four possessions and all from different spots on the floor Monday when Spain blew open the game in taking a 20-point third quarter lead. Pau also neutralized Nene like the Bulls were unable to do in last season’s playoffs, holding the Brazilian big man to a quiet seven points with at least one point blank block on a Nene attempt.

Not to diminish the play of Derrick Rose, who has been the focus of Chicago and NBA fans in this tournament as Rose continues his comeback from two knee surgeries. Rose has been healthy, fast and explosive with the ball, though his play has been inconsistent. Rose is averaging seven points on three of 12 shooting along with two rebounds and 1.5 assists in 20 minutes per game coming off the bench for the USA.

It’s been encouraging for Rose and the Bulls because Rose hasn’t experienced knee problems and has performed some of the most impressive moves and dunks early in the tournament. The USA team had a day off Monday and face New Zealand Tuesday (10:30 a.m. CT | ESPN). They aren’t expected to have any difficult games now until the so called knockout, single elimination round starting in Barcelona Saturday.

The USA could not potentially meet Spain until the finals in Madrid Sept. 14. And the way the teams have played thus far, it would be an upset if the USA team were to defeat Spain. Perhaps only Anthony Davis among the USA big men could even make Spain’s team with first team all-defensive player Serge Ibaka coming off the bench for Spain.

He’s behind Pau and his brother Marc Gasol, who comprise a formidable front line defensively that is holding opponents to fewer than 60 points per game.

The star has been Pau Gasol, leading the tournament in scoring and with the tournament-most 33 points in Spain’s Game 1 win over Iran. Gasol is also fifth overall in blocks and in the top 20 in rebounding. And if Iran and Egypt weren’t exactly NBA-like competition in this world event, then Monday’s opponent with Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao was a better test. Pau Gasol scored an A-plus with a spectacular performance against three NBA quality big men.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Pau Gasol becomes the most versatile big man in Bulls history given the variety of skills he’s demonstrating in this tournament.

Being healthy clearly is a major part as Pau appears rejuvenated in being freed from the falling fortunes and dysfunction of the Lakers in recent years. He turned 34 last month and looks again like the four-time All Star who was a crucial presence for a pair of Lakers title teams.

Consider the start of the game Monday, which Pau dominated with a dozen points in a 30-14 first quarter start that basically sent Brazil a message that Portugal probably wouldn’t want it back.

A note to the USA team: Spain also has an offense.

It’s understandable the USA team would not have an offense being put together just this summer and with numerous defections of top players, especially big men. It’s where Spain likely will defeat this USA team if they meet.

Spain’s roster is filled with current and former NBA players other than the big men, including Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Rodriquez, Rudy Fernandez and Victor Claver. More importantly, they have played together and run multiple sets with more player movement and passing than we see with the USA team. They’ll generally place the Gasols at each elbow and run a series of pick and rolls, down screens to free shooters with Navarro and Fernandez three-point threats.

The first quarter Monday was a basketball clinic by Spain with big man to big man passing for layups and pop shots by the Gasol brothers, Fernandez and Pau and Marc exchanging roles in the pick and roll and Pau with a variety of scoring plays. Pau ball faked and scored on a scoop drive over Nene, drove left handed and scored, backed in from the post and twice crashed the boards for put backs, once screaming in delight with his put back slam dunk.

Pau and Marc constantly switch in a zone like interior with Pau blocking a Splitter shot early and then in the third quarter a fabulous play in getting in front of a Splitter drive. Splitter then shovel passed to his left to Nene. Pau recovered and blocked Nene’s dunk attempt.

There’s been a specious reputation for Pau Gasol that he is a so called soft player who avoids contact. But he was physical with both Nene and Varejao, frustrating Varejao into some pushing and both Brazilians backing off and taking fadeaway jumpers instead of challenging the basket.

The USA team had some trouble early in Sunday’s game against Turkey with the opponent’s slowdown play. The theory is you defeat the USA with deliberate play and rebounding. But Spain pushes the ball well in transition and has excellent outlet passers in Marc Gasol and Rubio, who always are looking up court. Spain had several fast break scores.

And then Pau took over again after halftime as he did to open the game.

Nene tried to power in on a postup, but Pau denied him and Nene stepped away for a weak baseline jumper. Pau then made a three from the wing, hit a pick and pop jumper on a pass from Rubio and then made threes from on top and in the right corner as Brazil’s big men were flummoxed about where to go and who to guard. Pau then closed off his scoring day taking a pass from Marc for a 15 footer after Marc drove to draw the defense.

The focus for Bulls fans has been the play of Rose. But the biggest impact next season for the Bulls could be the play of Pau Gasol.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: