As Odom goes again, so do Lakers
He bounces back from two dreadful games to spark the bench in Game 3 win
BOSTON -- Lamar Odom speaks slowly and chooses his words carefully whenever he's in front of a throng of reporters as he was Tuesday night after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 91-84 to win Game 3 of the NBA Finals. After he answers your question he'll usually look you in the eyes, nod his head and say, "Right?" to make sure you've fully comprehended what he just said before moving on to his next point.
Odom did that several times in the Lakers' locker room Tuesday night as he was asked about his 12-point, five-rebound performance off the bench after scoring only eight points in the first two games of the Finals. He wanted to make sure everyone knew his performance wasn't a result of anything more than being able to stay on the floor, something he couldn't do in the first two games after getting in early foul trouble.
"I wasn't able to play," Odom said. "That's it. I got three fouls in less than three minutes [in Game 2]. I just had to stay out of foul trouble. I did that and I was able to stay aggressive throughout the game."
Despite being one of the most talented teams in the league, the Lakers aren't a particularly deep team. They haven't been for about two years now. Pick up a stat sheet during the last two postseasons and you'd be hard-pressed to find more than one player beyond the starting lineup stand out. That is, of course, when the team does well. When it doesn't, you can be sure the space below the starters on the box score is usually filled with single digits and zeros.
The success of the Lakers' bench and of the team many times during this postseason has hinged on Odom. If he is able to come off the bench and give the team a solid contribution, the Lakers are almost impossible to beat. Far too often, however, Odom has disappeared, which has led to the Lakers getting little to nothing from their bench and relying far too much on their starters.
As the Lakers found themselves down 12-5 with 7:41 left in the first quarter, coach Phil Jackson called a timeout and told his team to slow the game down. About two minutes before the timeout he put Luke Walton into the game for Ron Artest, who had picked up two quick fouls, and about two minutes after the timeout he brought Odom into the game for Andrew Bynum. The tandem helped spark a 32-8 run for the Lakers.
"We were playing so poorly it was just a necessity to call a timeout to slow things down and get us back in defense," Jackson said. "We seemed to gather some strength and change the course of the game right there and they made a really good effort in the last six minutes of the quarter."
The run began when Walton made a 16-foot fadeaway jumper over Kendrick Perkins as the shot clock expired with 7:41 left in the first quarter, and ended when Odom drove in for a layup to give the Lakers a 37-20 lead with 9:10 left in the second quarter.
When Walton was told about the 32-8 run the team had after he hit the shot, he smiled. "I like that," he said. "I like that. Put that in your article."
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The reason Walton was probably so eager to get the stat in the article was because he has been pushing to play in the series since it began. He said he has been studying Boston's defense and thinks he can help facilitate and create plays for his teammates if he can get on the court.
"I've been watching all the tape and watching from the bench and I've been dying to get in and get a chance to play," Walton said. "I know how they load their defense and in my mind's eye I had an idea of how to move the ball from one side to the other and getting into the middle and making some passes and getting some guys some easy looks."
Odom's contribution to the turnaround was so big he was the only Laker who played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, making a bank-shot jumper with the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead, and driving by Glen Davis for a layup to give the Lakers a 80-76 lead with 3:45 left in the game.
After the game, as Odom stood in front of the dry erase board in the visiting locker room with the phrase "2 More W's" written on it, he turned to the reporters and had a question for them before they started asking him questions.
"I don't even know what the final score was. Does anyone know what the final score was?" Odom asked before being told. "91-84. Good. We have to find a way to win the low-scoring games and we did that tonight."
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It's actually not surprising Odom didn't know the final score. He admits he hardly picks up a box score anymore since moving to the Lakers' bench two years ago.
"With this team and the way we play, I know I can have efficient games as far as finding my spot and rebounding the ball and making plays when they're there," Odom said. "I really don't have to rush or force my offense. I know it from the big man position to the guard position. I can post or I can initiate it as a point guard. I just take my time. I can't really worry about stats on this team, that's not my role on this team. I just have to play and if the play is in front of me, I have to make it."
The Lakers were able to regain home-court advantage Tuesday in large part because Odom and Walton consistently made the plays in front of them. When reminded of Paul Pierce's proclamation during Game 2 that the series wasn't returning to Los Angeles, Walton laughed and said he hoped Pierce was right.
"We don't want to stop," Walton said. "We don't want to just get one and let them get the next two and now we're in a hole going back home. We want to finish it out here. We want to come back Thursday and win again. I'm cool with this series not going back to L.A."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.