It was far from a traditional return game for former Toronto Raptors champion Marc Gasol.
After signing with the Los Angeles Lakers this past offseason, the veteran centre had to wait until the second half of the season to face off against his former team. Normally, when the matchup finally came across the schedule, the 36-year-old big man would have been showered in cheers in front of a rocking Scotiabank Arena crowd in Toronto, honoured for his essential impact in the franchise's first-ever NBA title back in 2019.
But in a year-plus that has been everything but normal, Gasol was instead faced with a "return" game in Tampa, Florida to take on his old squad.
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The location didn't make a major difference, though. Gasol still put together a vintage performance with a balanced stat sheet of 13 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks, dominating the depleted interior he left behind when electing to sign with the Lakers in free agency.
Aggressive from the start 😤- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 6, 2021
(📺: @SpectrumSN) pic.twitter.com/KLqTKtUE5Z
In a contest where the Lakers were without newly acquired starting centre Andre Drummond, and reserve centre Montrezl Harrell getting ejected in the first quarter, it was Gasol's time to step up and try and prove to the franchise that he can still contribute to this team.
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He did so in a very Marc Gasol-esque manner, doing a bunch of the things that don't show up in a stat sheet like scaring off opposing players that attack the rim and dishing out hockey assists that led to open 3-point shooters.
When Gasol signed with Los Angeles, he was brought on to do all of those things in hopes to compete for another championship. After a slow start where he averaged just 4.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game, the Lakers went out and got a replacement in Drummond on the buyout market.
That puts Gasol in a reserve role for the first time in his career, and according to TSN's Josh Lewenberg, his former head coach Nick Nurse was shocked by how things have worked out for the savvy veteran in Los Angeles thus far.
"You guys know how much Marc impacted us and how much I think of Marc as a player," he stated prior to the game. "He's got such a unique skill set, still. I don't know who's a better passer and his intelligence is way up there.
"He's a great player, tremendous amount of honours on his resume. Basketball means a lot to him. He's proud of what he's accomplished & always sees himself as a big contributor on a team, whether he's scoring or not. He plays to win."
Gasol's outing in this one reminded his former teammates of that, too.
"I don't know what they're doing over there, but Marc Gasol's a great player and I don't think he's somebody that you can't play," tonight's starting centre Chris Boucher stated, according to Lewenberg. "(He's) still got it at his age and can still bring a lot to the team."
Star forward Pascal Siakam backed that notion as well.
"Marc is a great guy overall, man. He's just one of those people that you love to be around. As a big brother here he kinda took all of us in a little bit and taught us a lot of things... He's just a great vet all around... He's a great person."
If Gasol can play with this type of fire moving forward, it'll face Lakers head coach Frank Vogel with a tougher decision as to who the team's primary big man should be moving forward, especially on nights where all three of Gasol, Drummond and Harrell are available.
But if you needed any further indication, this "return" game proved the 13-year veteran still has plenty left in the tank.
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