LOS ANGELES (AP) - This was hardly a soft performance by Pau Gasol.
Unable to find the ball in the second halves of the first two games of the NBA finals, Gasol went out and got it Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NBA finals, right when it mattered most.
Gasol scored only nine points, but five came during the decisive stretch of the game, helping the Lakers to an 87-81 victory that cut Boston's lead to 2-1.
``I knew what I had to do was muscle and fight,'' Gasol said. ``That was my job.''
The Lakers' lead was down to three midway through the final quarter when Gasol tipped in a missed shot for a 75-70 lead. He then went up strong to grab the rebound of another miss and put it back in, making it 77-70 with 4:18 remaining.
After a basket by Paul Pierce, Gasol cut hard to the basket and was fouled. His free throw made it a six-points game and the Lakers stayed ahead from there.
``Offensively we did some things down there at the other end,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``Pau got a tip-in, we got some second opportunities.''
Gasol averaged 16 points in the two games in Boston, but most came early in the game. He was limited to three points in the second half of Game 1, then had only four in the final 24 minutes Sunday.
Worse, he had been hearing the ``soft'' criticisms again, but he played tough in Game 3, grabbing 12 rebounds and helping contain Kevin Garnett, who shot just 6-of-21 from the field.
Gasol shot only 3-of-9, but the amount of made shots wasn't important - only the timing of them.
Gasol seemed frustrated after Game 2, noting that he can't always control where the ball goes. But there certainly seem to be times where he can put more effort into going after it.
The Celtics finished with an 83-69 advantage in the first two games. But Gasol and the Lakers played them even Tuesday, with Boston ending up with only a 45-44 edge.
``They're going to challenge you physically, but I think we stepped up and put bodies on people and were able to control the boards pretty well,'' Gasol said. ``We didn't give them many second-chance points and we kept them to shooting 35 percent, so I think that's pretty good.''
Gasol never won a playoff series until this season, when the Lakers acquired him in February from the Memphis Grizzlies. Part of the reason the center from Spain hears the soft accusations is simply because he's a European player.
But in the most important game of the Lakers' season, he stood up just fine against the supposedly tougher Celtics.
``It wasn't pretty, but we fought and we battled and that's how we got the win,'' Gasol said.

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