Commentary

Bynum hobbled, then Lakers outworked

Updated: June 11, 2010, 11:53 AM ET
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Andrew BynumJoe Murphy/Getty ImagesThe hopes of the Lakers faithful might now ride on the balky right knee of Andrew Bynum.

BOSTON -- With Andrew Bynum limited to only 12 minutes of action in Game 4 because of his increasingly problematic right knee, the Lakers immediately became a smaller team. But they never responded with what should have been the corresponding adjectives: hungrier and scrappier.

Those were the attributes that applied to the Celtics, not the Lakers.

As Kobe Bryant said, "They got all the energy points, the hustle points, the second-chance points ..." Or as they're known in these parts, "Tommy points" thanks to a certain gravelly voiced announcer.

" ... points in the paint, beat us to the loose balls," Bryant continued. "I mean, that's how the game turned around."

From a two-point Lakers lead to start the fourth quarter to a 96-89 Celtics victory. From a 2-1 Lakers lead in the series to an even NBA Finals that's assured of finishing in Los Angeles.

You could argue the game really shifted in the previous two days, when the cartilage tear in Bynum's right lateral meniscus caused even more swelling than he has been experiencing since it was diagnosed on May 1. He felt he tweaked the knee during the Lakers' victory in Game 3, and as a result, "I couldn't really go," he said. "Didn't have any strength in the leg."

Without Bynum the Lakers looked like a different team. A disadvantaged team. If it stops being about size and starts to be about effort, the Lakers didn't give any indication Thursday that they're prepared to fight the battle on that front. It was almost as if they deemed it beneath them, while the Celtics thrived on it.

"You can still play with that cool head, but you have to meet the physical activity," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "[Big Baby] Davis and [Nate] Robinson gave us a little bit of that activity level that we didn't meet and match."

Even plays that worked in the Lakers' favor were indicative of how much more into this game the Celtics were, including a long rebound off a missed Celtics shot that Bryant was content to watch go out of bounds while Davis hustled to the sideline in a futile attempt to save it.

Bynum was trying, he just wasn't doing anything. On the Lakers' second possession Bynum got the ball on the right side of the rim and couldn't even elevate, allowing Kevin Garnett to block his shot. Bynum had only one basket and three rebounds in his time on the court. He didn't start the second half and played a two-minute stint in the third quarter before his night ended.

Bynum was optimistic that his limited playing time in Game 4 combined with two days off before Game 5 will have him ready to return on Sunday. He said he was trying to arrange for New York-based physician Dr. David Altchek, who has operated on him before, to come to Boston and examine his knee. Bynum's self-diagnosis is that the swelling has reached a higher place on his leg, about 4 inches above the knee.

"The pain is about the same," he said. "It's just an inability for my muscles to fire because of the swelling that's in there. It's all the way up here now [he marked the spot on his right thigh]. That's the part that stinks. You can't really jump. I'm kind of like a liability out there."

Bynum has contended -- and with good reason -- that he's more essential to the team this season than he was in last year's playoffs, when Lamar Odom replaced him in the starting lineup and turned Bynum into a 7-foot accessory. The Lakers are at their best when Bynum and Pau Gasol are overpowering opponents inside on offense and stonewalling them on defense.

The Lakers had been winning the points in the paint battle and Bynum had seven of the Lakers' NBA Finals-record 14 blocked shots in Game 2. But every statistic that could be obtained through desire went the Celtics' way in Game 4. Rebounds, 41-34. Points in the paint, 54-34. Second-chance points, 20-10.

"We didn't have that big presence in the middle, and Big Baby took full advantage of it," Bryant said. "He played extremely, extremely well for them, as did Nate."

The undersized power forward and the pint-sized guard, the self-described "Shrek and Donkey," lit up the Lakers for a total of 30 points. Davis kept powering his way inside and Robinson slid through the Lakers' defense, with one or no 7-footers around to do anything about it.

No Laker had more than seven rebounds. Odom has had seven double-figure rebound games in these playoffs. Game 5 wasn't one of them. Rather than discussing the rebounding or the lack of paint protection, Odom kept shifting the blame back to the offense and the lack of ball movement.

That's usually a Kobe issue. Sure, the Celtics' defense once again made every point hard to come by, but he attempted 22 shots (he's tried more 11 times in these playoffs) and made 10 of them. The only real run the Lakers enjoyed in this game was entirely supplied by Bryant, who made back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Lakers a four-point lead late in the third quarter. His issue was handling the ball, not shooting it; Bryant had seven turnovers.

Bryant (33 points), Gasol (21 points) and Odom (10 points) all scored consistent with their playoff averages. The Lakers actually outshot the Celtics for most of the game and finished with the slightest of edges in field goal percentage.

It was all the other stuff that made the difference, such as the Celtics having twice as many steals as the Lakers (12-6). By not forcing turnovers and not keeping the Celtics off the boards, the Lakers couldn't create transition opportunities and had a mere two fast-break points.

Gasol didn't sound panicked about the prospect of going without Bynum if need be.

"I think we have enough in our arsenal to be able to produce in that case," Gasol said.

But Game 4 showed it's not always about the big guns, the heavy artillery. Sometimes it comes down to hand-to-hand combat, and the Lakers lost the battle.