How do you break a curse? After missing an easy open layup toward the end of the first half of last night's Game 6 between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics, Marc Gasol clutched the front of his jersey in his huge hands and looked about ready to tear it in half. Furious and steaming, he marched off the floor and kept on walking, heading off behind the stands and out of view of the broadcast cameras.
This miss was just the latest in the seemingly endless litany of brutal misses Gasol had been enduring lately—against the Celtics, this season, Gasol hadn’t made a single three. The Big Spaniard simply could not make it go in this series, no matter how hard he tried. So of course he was livid. He was livid at himself.
Gasol seemed well-aware of the problem. Despite his svelte new frame, in the Bubble he has shot just 25 percent from the 3-point line, making nine of 35 before the Celtics series—an enormous decline from the more than 40 percent he was making before the season broke off in March. In Game 1 against the Celtics, the drop went from alarming to perilous: Gasol not only missed three good looks from behind the line, he missed three shots without anyone even defending him. The Celtics weren’t even bothering to put anyone on him. They knew that even with the opportunity to shoot, the guy wouldn’t make a bucket.
Those missed threes made all the difference in a series commanded by Boston’s steamrolling offense. And while you can’t put the blame for the losses on Gasol alone, it’s never good when one of your starters can’t get anything going.
As the Raptors barreled into Game 6 last night it was clear that Gasol wanted things to be different. In a rash bid for change, he had gone to the barbershop and had his entire head shaved into a buzz cut—a sure sign that he was coming to the game with a new perspective. He looked resolved and hungry. It seemed like he might turn it around.
The first half of the game was not exactly promising. Early on, Gasol struggled to find the rhythm, working the defense admirably but failing, as had become the norm of late, to actually get the ball in the net. After missing that layup in the first half, Gasol was benched and traded out for Serge Ibaka, and he had to watch helplessly as his turn in the rotation came and went and Nick Nurse decided to keep him out for the rest of the second quarter.
You would have been forgiven for expecting that to be the end of Gasol. On social media, fans were calling for Gasol’s head, insisting that he was a waste of a starter and that Ibaka should be starting full-time instead. Nick Nurse, though, elected to keep Gasol on, and so at the beginning of the game’s crucial second half, there he was, ready to go. And it was in the second half that Gasol suddenly came alive. He was indomitable on defense, blocking a Tatum two and frustrating Theiss. And on offense he found his gifts again: In the third quarter, he sank not just one, but two perfect threes, and even capped it off with a beauty of a jumper.
“I think it was the haircut,” Fred VanVleet joked after the game. “I think he got a little more aerodynamic.”
The big stories by the end of the game were the electrifying performances of Kyle Lowry and especially Norm Powell, whose magic off the bench drove the Raptors to a hotly contested victory in double overtime. There’s no question, meanwhile, that this was a victory owed to Pascal, Kyle, Fred, and OG, each of whom delivered in a big way and were on the court for nearly an hour. But at the same time, the heart of this win was the Spaniard and his odds-defying turnaround. Gasol’s two threes against the Celtics perfectly encapsulated the qualities of resolve and determination that made it possible for Raptors to turn this series around and come back from the brink of elimination. At the time when his team needed him the most, Gasol showed up and made it happen, despite nearly tearing his jersey in anger moments earlier. The Raptors won the game. And Marc Gasol broke the curse.
Now let's just hope it stays broken for Game 7. Marc might want to give himself another once-over with those hair clippers. It could mean the difference between Toronto advancing or going home.