LOS ANGELES -- Phil Jackson loves the game within the game. Heading into Thursday's Game 1 of the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, one piques his curiosity more than the rest.
"I'm intrigued by the [Kevin] Garnett-Pau Gasol matchup. I think that's a really good one," he said Wednesday after the Lakers completed practice.
"Kevin is like the force of [Boston's] defense, he's really the glue that kind of holds their defense together with his activity level, his ability to help and recover on guys," Jackson continued. "Pau is the guy we have to have be a part of the scoring combo with Kobe. So he has to provide some of that for us in this series against probably one of the top defenders in the game."
Gasol's performance was generally seen as disappointing during the 2008 Finals, in which he averaged 14.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in six games, facing primarily Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol had a subpar Game 6, making four field goals and turning the ball over five times in 32 minutes as the Lakers lost 131-92 and Boston clinched the title.
Garnett was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Since, he's struggled with injuries, undergoing surgery to his right knee in May 2009.
Still, he's still a formidable opponent, says Gasol.
"I see a little bit of difference [since the surgery], but he's still very effective and he's still one of their team leaders," he said. "You've got to respect everything that he does and brings to the table. The leadership, the aggressiveness, and he's going to compete no matter what. He's proven that through the injury."
The Celtics got the best of Gasol two seasons ago, but Garnett says the experience makes Gasol a more dangerous player in the sequel.
"Pau's one of the best post players in this game," he said. "He's a lot more experienced now. He has a title under his belt. Anytime you throw experience with a guy, and desire, it makes him overall better."
Garnett is among the more noted trash-talkers in the league, but Gasol says he doesn't hear much when he's on the floor with him.
"I don't feel like he talks that much to me. At an earlier stage [in my career] he did because that's kind of his game to certain guys, that he likes to intimidate you like that verbally or physically. But we'll be ready for whatever," he said."If anything, I try for that to motivate me and actually get me pissed off and really attack him."
For his part, Garnett doesn't know if he's slowed his verbal barrage towards Gasol over the years.
"I don't keep up with who I talk to, the dialogue, or what I'm saying or whatever. Pau and I have had countless battles through the years," he said. "We've both been in the league a while now, and I can't recall none of the conversations that we've had, either good or bad."
Brian Kamenetzky covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com and is co-author of the Land O' Lakers blog.