- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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The timing of spring's arrival is said to be based on whether the groundhog sees his shadow, but Odom's spring statements prove beyond a shadow of a doubt just how valuable he is to his team.
Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Monday belonged to Odom long before Kobe Bryant made it seem like he was a spokesman for rejuvenation tonic in the third quarter as he peddled his wares to the eager Staples Center crowd that transformed into the spitting image of The Forum in the 1980s (if you ignored all the cell phones).
Odom kept his 6-foot-10, 230-pound body folded on the bench until he came into the game with 5:31 remaining in the first quarter and the Lakers down by five, and he immediately sprang into action. He scored seven straight points on a short bank shot, a long 3-pointer and a stretched-out tip-in to give Los Angeles a lead it would keep the rest of the way in a dominant 128-107 series-starting victory.
"I didn't really want to wait," Odom said, speaking to a throng of reporters after the game, with the big blue NBA backdrop behind him -- his first podium game of the postseason, as ESPN colleague J.A. Adande puts it.
"I said to myself, 'If I'm going to have a bad game, I'm going to have a bad game going out swinging,'" he continued. "I'm not going to wait for the game to come to me tonight. I'm going to try to attack, and if a jump shot is there, I'm going to take it."
And if a rebound was anywhere near his 7-foot-4 wingspan, he was going to take that, too. Odom tied his playoff career high by corralling 19 rebounds and secured the symmetrical double-double with 19 points, the most points he has scored all postseason.
Odom's output buoyed the Lakers' bench to a 44-35 scoring edge over the Suns' much-ballyhooed second unit.
"We get a lot of criticism and we don't take it personal," said Shannon Brown, one of Odom's bench mates. "Today we held up our end of the bargain." Brown scored nine points and made his only 3-pointer, helping the Lakers go 8-for-17 from deep as compared to 5-for-22 for Phoenix.
"L.O. is one of those guys who leads by example," said Brown. "Today was one of those games where he felt he had to lead by his actions."
As much as Odom's night was about his insistence on making something happen for himself, it was also some insurance in case something happens to Andrew Bynum's right knee as the playoffs progress.
About the only negative aspect of the night for L.A. was Bynum's line of just four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes. If the tear in Bynum's knee limits the young center, Odom goes from being the center of attention on the Lakers' bench to a key cog in the starting lineup.
"His versatility is very big for us because he can play anything from the 1 to the 5 for us," Brown said. "For him, being out there, being able to do that, it kind of helps everything flow a little bit easier."
While the local L.A. media was on knee patrol with Bryant and Bynum during the week off before the conference finals began, Odom was quietly rehabbing injuries of his own. A bum left shoulder has been bothering him since February and sometimes will cause his whole arm to go numb without notice. He also rehabbed his right knee, which he covers with a bulky brace; he received electric stimulation on the knee during the first round against the Thunder.
"It was perfect," Odom said of the break. "I got a lot of treatment, got to work on my shot and my individual game, and it was exactly what I needed."
And Odom was exactly what L.A. needed: a face card coming out on the river to win the Lakers the pot at just the right time.
Last year, he did it with an inspiring 26-point, 15-rebound, three-block Game 5 performance against Utah in the first round that let the Lakers know they would be set to surge for a Finals run even with a mostly absent Bynum.
Two seasons ago, it was Game 2 of the conference finals against San Antonio, when Odom's 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks helped give L.A. a 2-0 series lead over the defending champion and an all-but-guaranteed trip to the Finals.
"It sends a great message to the rest of our team that he's accepted the role of coming off the bench," Bryant said. "He's had games where people have criticized him, but it's really just the amount of time that he's on the floor, and for him to accept that role makes us that much of a better team because he can have moments like this and have games like this."
The moment that perfectly summed up Odom's night came with just more than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up by 16. The never-say-die in him kicked in as he found himself in the paint surrounded by Louis Amundson and Amare Stoudemire, the closest thing the Suns can claim to Twin Towers. Odom went up three times. Amundson block. Odom rebound. Stoudemire block. Odom rebound. Stoudemire goaltend. Odom: two points after his try, try, try again.
The normally breezy Odom looked bogged down on the postgame podium, exhausted by his day's work. During the game, he got a smack in the face from Goran Dragic and a lump on the head from Amundson, the second hit leaving a baseball-sized convex contusion protruding out of his forehead.
"Amundson caught me a little bit and gave me a nice little goodbye knot," Odom said after he spent Monday night saying "hello" to the playoffs.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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