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OAKLAND — One step away from his ultimate goal, Marc Gasol remains locked in the moment.
No player on this Raptors team, outside of course Kawhi Leonard with Serge Ibaka in the conversation but not quite there, is better at blocking out any external pressures or narratives and simply focussing on the task in from of him than Gasol.
A legitimate query on Wednesday was handled in typical Gasol fashion. It focussed on the likely end of the Warriors death lineup with Kevin Durant having undergone surgery to repair his torn Achilles’ tendon and done for this season and likely all of next.
The death lineup was a Steve Kerr invention that included Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Draymond Green. It positively lit up opponents offensively and shut them down defensively.
It was revolutionary in its makeup and changed the game to some degree. Gasol, though, saw no point in answering the question and initially didn’t.
“I’m not going to analyze that or spend much time right now thinking about that because it’s something we’re just not going to see. So I’ll worry about the guys that are going to play and how to stop them and after that we can go … It’s irrelevant to talk about that right now. It’s, well not a waste of time, but it’s just not helping us get towards our goal right now.”
Now in fairness, Gasol did point out how you can’t mimic the talent that group possessed and therefore any copycat attempts would surely be limited, but the initial response, which was basically that’s a good question but not for this time, pretty much summed up Gasol’s approach throughout.
He has been laser-focussed on the game in front of him and any attempt to push that focus somewhere else was met with an abrupt, albeit polite, lack of cooperation.
The refusal to budge from that sole purpose has to be part of what has made the Raptors entire season and post-season so successful.
They have been down, they’ve been counted out, and then the bounce back comes and all is right again.
It happened after Game 1 in the Orlando series. It happened after Game 3 in the Philadelphia series and then again after Game 6. It happened after Game 2 in the Milwaukee series.
So far in this Finals the Raptors have had one bounce back following the loss in Game 2. Now they require another.
Gasol either wasn’t prepared to explain where that ability on this team comes from or quite honestly isn’t sure.
“I couldn’t really tell what you it is,” he said. “I think it’s just our nature as players. Because as a team we haven’t been together that long, so obviously our instincts as players, I think kind of that’s what it promotes and I don’t know.”
Gasol wasn’t around in 2015 when Paul Pierce famously declared the Raptors lacked “it” and then backed that up when he played a significant role in ending the Raptors playoff run before it could get started in a four-game sweep at the hands of Pierce’s Washington Wizards.
Pierce never actually defined what he meant by “it” but it wasn’t there for the Raptors back then. Pierce was right.
Maybe this stay-in-the-moment, laser-like focus is the “it” Pierce was talking about all along.
It’s no secret that Pierce was one of the few national types to actually choose Toronto to win this series. He has the Raptors winning in six games which they could do with a win tonight.
Could it be that Pierce has realized that what wasn’t in Toronto in 2014 when his Nets beat them or 2015 when his Wizards beat them is now here?
There has certainly been very few questioning the Raptors’ chances or abilities in this series since it began.
By the same token there have been very few, if any moments, throughout this entire playoff series where the Raptors have seemed shaken or overly concerned about one loss or even two along the way.
A quiet confidence has been around this team going all the way back to training camp.
Losses were absorbed and then either immediately or soon after made up for with wins.
Only once all year did the Raptors lose three games in a row, a five-day span in November that was immediately followed by an eight-game winning streak.
Veterans like Leonard and Gasol, Lowry and Green know that is the only way to treat losses. They have to be flushed. And they’ve passed those lessons down to younger teammates like Fred VanVleet who was sending that message back out himself on Wednesday.
“This is the Finals. It’s not a one-game series, it’s not the end of the world when you lose, and it’s not the greatest thing when you win,” VanVleet said. “It will be now, obviously, we’re at three. But trying to get four is tough. And we had an opportunity to close them out, and we didn’t do that. Give those guys a lot of credit, they made some big plays late, and we just didn’t do enough to win. So we got another chance here (tonight), and we got to go out there and play well and try to close it out.”
No grand speeches. No outside motivations. Just win. That has been the goal all along. Nothing different this time around.
COACH NURSE ANSWERS MOMENTUM QUESTION
Nick Nurse was having none of it this time around.
The Raptors’ head coach has taken his share of second guessing from the media at times through this run and for the most part has accepted it as part of the job.
Wednesday afternoon, in the team’s final availability before Game 6 seemed different.
The question asked of Nurse was did he believe in momentum and if so did he think momentum could be stopped by a timeout.
Nurse, of course, took a timeout with three minutes left and his team up six in Game 5 and never scored again eventually losing by one.
“Now that is a loaded question, I think, isn’t it. Oh, my God,” Nurse said. “Momentum is definitely real in everything in life, from the moment you get up to a basketball game moment. No doubt about it. Sometimes timeouts stop them; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes not taking one stops it and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s kind of the world we live in on the basketball court. You take them. Sometimes you don’t and sometimes you do. Deep thoughts.”
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