Mental toughness is attributed to world-class athletes; it’s the defining difference from a World Champion and the runner-up. Mental toughness is defined as having a physiological edge that enables you to be consistent, confident, focused, and determined during high pressure situations in order to perform at maximum potential.
With that definition, there is a clear-cut athlete that comes to mind dealing with the NBA and that’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe exemplifies ‘mental toughness’ in every facet that corresponds with a championship contender. However, that same toughness may not trickle down to Kobe’s teammates.
Thursday night, during Game 6 of the First-Round Western Conference Nuggets-Lakers matchup, there was a one Los Angeles Laker that clearly did not have mental toughness. In fact, this player only contributed 3 points on 1-for-10 shooting, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist on Thursday. Who could it be?
Let’s back up momentarily, though, this isn’t the first time that Pau Gasol has been mentally unavailable. Last season – during Dallas’ sweep of the Lakers in the Second-Round – Gasol allowed off-court issues (a break-up) affect his on court production. After the Lakers were swept, he even admitted it, well sorta:
“I have to learn from this,” Gasol said. ”I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court.”
He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.
During that series Pau averaged 12.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. Last season he averaged 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. While his rebounds were on par for his season average, his points were quite a bit off. Giving this information, it’s safe to think he was mentally hindered during this series.
One would have to think he would have learned from past experiences and prepare his mind for a mentally tough series.
Kobe, the tough giant he is, has implored to the gentle Pau to get back to being focused and not taking a hungry team for granted.
Bryant cornered Pau Gasol in a private moment before boarding the bus and told him, too: Enough of the drifting, enough of the timidity, enough of the entitlement. Bleeping play, man. These Denver Nuggets are fearless and rugged and believing suddenly they can make this comeback complete on Saturday night in Staples Center.
It’s not as if Pau Gasol has a jumbled series, in fact he has seemed very focused during a very vital Game 4 victory. During this game, he scored 13 points on 50% shooting from the field, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Pau Gasol has limited his touches this season/series for the “greater good” of the team as he has been moved from the second option to the third option on the offense.
“Championship teams have always been built on players who can sacrifice for the betterment of the group. He’s obviously sacrificed his touches, but his aggressiveness is not going down. If you look his assist numbers and his rebounding numbers, he’s such a big factor for our team.” – Kobe Bryant
However, could it be this very thing – Andrew Bynum taking over his touches – that has Pau Gasol in mentally weak place?
“Whatever’s needed of me, I try to do it. Obviously I don’t get as many looks as I used to, especially down in the post because Drew is taking up a lot of that and being effective. So I try to take advantage of my opportunities, and use my skills and my talent to get guys involved and facilitate. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.” – Pau Gasol
Back to his Game 4, many remember Pau set a pick on Danilo Gallinari in which it knocked Gallo on the ground with his elbow. Pau would make a clean pass to Ramon Sessions who sank a three-pointer which would be the dagger in that game and would end in L.A.’s victory.
So you take that same Gasol, the same Pau that was dishing dimes, cleaning the class, and scoring points when need be to the same Gasol Thursday night with only three rebounds….. three rebounds for a 7-footer is unheard of.
“It’s one of those things where psychologically you have to put yourself in a predicament, in a position, where you have no other option but to perform.” – Mike Brown
Back to Pau’s earlier of quote of accepting his role in the Laker’s love triangle; could this be eating away at him? Or did he just have a bad night?
Is it possible Pau isn’t as ‘soft’ or mentally weak as many believe? Is it possible to have a horrible night during an elimination game in which he Pau shrunk in the spotlight and allowed an opponent to extend the series? Is that possible?
Well, it’s apparent Pau is as soft and charmin, but we are going to see how soft he is during the Lakers-Nuggets Game 7 on Saturday.