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Raptors’ Mr. Everything Gasol finds fun in NBA Finals challenge — before and after beers

Raptors’ Mr. Everything Gasol finds fun in NBA Finals challenge — before and after beers
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OAKLAND, CALIF.—Marc Gasol doesn’t do any one specific thing in the grand scheme of the Raptors, but he does a lot of different things that often determine whether the team wins or loses.

Need a big man to guard another traditional big man such as Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins and Gasol gets it done, just as he does his level best switching on the likes of Klay Thompson or Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala or even Stephen Curry.

Need him to loosen up defences with three-point shooting and there he is out on the perimeter, hoisting up shots. He uses his vast basketball IQ to initiate an offence predicated on improvisation and reading and reacting because that might best suit his myriad talents.

Not one thing. A lot of things.

And while it’s challenging and difficult, and a role he’s only assumed since he joined the franchise in early February to set it on its course the NBA Finals, the 34-year-old Spaniard does it with no complaints and with an analytical mind that allows him to figure it out as it happens.

“I think any challenge is fun because it makes you better,” he said at Oracle Arena here Wednesday afternoon.

It’s hard to find one word to describe what the job is like, because it’s unlike any role that anybody’s ever had with the team. Gasol enjoys the challenge — enjoys having to make split-second decisions after getting a feel for what’s needed — but when it’s suggested that it might be fun, he pauses.

“Any challenge you face is always fun. It gives you a chance to improve, (but) I don’t think we understand the meaning of fun the same way, maybe.

“It’s fun after a couple of beers, maybe … but it’s fun, too.”

Gasol’s role in Thursday’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when the Raptors will try again to close out the two-time defending champion Warriors, will undoubtedly be different than it was in Game 5.

With Kevin Durant out with a ruptured Achilles and Kevon Looney questionable due to a lingering chest injury, the Warriors are likely to start Cousins again — a more traditional cover for Gasol than, say, the quicker, more versatile Green. But Gasol has shown an ability to easily handle Cousins, at least offensively, having driven past him a few times in the series while also enticing him into uncomfortable coverages 25 feet from the basket.

It changes dramatically when Golden State goes small and Gasol can’t take his man off the dribble, or has to guard more consistently outside, but that’s part of the challenge he willingly accepts.

“You just take it as it comes,” he said matter of factly. “You can’t expect the game to be played the same way — obviously not from game to game, but even within the game.

“They’re going to make adjustments, you’re going to make adjustments, they’re going to take something away, open up something else. It’s just a matter of how many runs can you withstand and how many runs can you get.”

Gasol, like most of his Raptors teammates, does not get too caught up in trying to explain what he feels or how he reacts or how he comes to make the adjustments he makes each and every game. He probably could have put a better seal on Green in the final decisive play of Game 5, and if he’d turned one way instead of the other he might have been in a spot to take a pass from Kawhi Leonard or Fred VanVleet to finish off the season with a game-winning basket.

But that’s in the past and he doesn’t dwell on the past. None of the Raptors do. He figures out what to do in the present and does it.

“Knowing that it’s such an emotional time, you try to keep it as objective as possible, control the things you can control, the things that you must do better than you did in Game 5 and execute,” he said.

“You have to do a lot of reflecting and understanding and try not to analyze too much. Sometimes you can get caught overanalyzing and going too far ahead. Just keep it as simple as possible (because) you trigger somebody else’s movement.”
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