4 storylines to watch in Game 4 of Lakers-Celtics series
1. Will Andrew Bynum play?
Bynum expected to play in Game 4, after noticing the swelling in the torn cartilage of his right knee returning to normal after Wednesday's practice. But in what usual entails an unpredictable turn of events regarding Bynum's knee injuries, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expressed uncertainty whether he'd play tonight after he experiencing more swelling during Thursday's shootaround.
One only has to look at the 2008 NBA Finals loss to know the the consequences Bynum's absence could entail. And in this season, the Lakers showed they couldn't absorb his absence as they had in other years. The Lakers went 6-7 when Bynum missed the last 13 regular season games because of a strained left Achilles' ankle. Bynum's absence also prompts Pau Gasol to move to center and Lamar Odom to start at forward, meaning there's less of a height presence, less depth on the frontline and a bench unit without Odom as its leader.
"He allows us to have different lineups and different looks out there," Gasol said of Bynum. "He does a really good job of being a big presence for us, rebounding, intimating, block shots, altering shots. He's bringing a lot of positive things for us and is giving us a bigger size and presence out there."
2. Which version of Ray Allen will we see?
Jackson isn't the only coach to question the officiating through the press in hopes it rattles players or the referees, themselves. Thinking that Jackson's public criticisms has gained him an advantage, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers played the game too and suggested part of Derek Fisher's defense on Allen consisted of something usually charged at Duke basketball players.
"Besides flopping, he doesn't do a lot extra," Rivers said of Fisher. "He plays hard. He's been in the game long enough to understand. I thought he got away with a lot."
Whether that plays an effect remains to be seen. But many don't expect Allen to replicate a zero of 13 clip a game after breaking the NBA Finals record in three pointers. Rivers thought ALlen lacked some lift. ALlen told reporters he took extra rest to regain energy. And Lakers guard Kobe Bryant simply believes a good shooter such as Allen won't have another bad night.
"If somebody goes zero of 13, defense has got nothing to do with that," Bryant said. "He just missed shots. He won't miss them the next game."
3. Will Paul Pierce bounce back?
Depending on your interpretation, Pierce's non-existent presence in the NBA Finals points to him just hitting open shots or Ron Artest frustrating him.
"I don't really see anything he's doings special that any other teams haven't done throughout the course of the playoffs," Pierce said when asked if Artest has been responsible for his 36.1% clip in the series. "That's it."
Fortunately, ABC broadcasts the games and DVR makes it easy to rewatch them. Bottom line, Pierce is either delusional, refuses to praise Artest or both. Artest was only too happy to play along with that storyline when a reporter suggested to him he hasn't played good defense on Pierce this series. Apparently, making Pierce work for his shots and drawing him into foul trouble doesn't count.
The Celtics expressed strong confidence Pierce will pick up his scoring slack. But with the wrong perception that Artest hasn't really done much on Pierce plus the fact Bryant and Fisher have instructed him recently not to force things offensively, it's a safe bet to think Artest will devote most of his energy on defense in Game 4.
4. How will the Lakers offense look?
Not only did Fisher's 11 fourth-quarter points further cement his legacy as a clutch player, it also bailed out a Lakers stagnant offense. That role usually goes to Bryant, but Jackson thought fatigue and shot selection contributed to the Black Mamba's 10 of 29 clip. The shooting mark also represented an even-handed mix that sometimes contributes to Bryant's poor shooting nights. The Lakers lacked consistent ball movement, didn't make enough of an effort to get the ball inside as indicated by the 20 combined field-goal attempts from Gasol and Bynum and Bryant felt compelled to take over the game.
This isn't the first time the Laker's offense looked flat. In their Game 2 loss to Boston, the team went one of nine from the field in the remaining five minutes of the game. Though the Lakers' post players exploited the Celtics with points in the paint (50-38) in Game 1, the Celtics outscored them inside the remaining two games. That's why Boston center Kendrick Perkins chalked Fisher up as the X factor.
"He's playing within the offense," Perkins said. "That 1-2 pick and roll with Kobe was killer. It wasn't going back to Kobe. It was him. He was taking all the big shots."
--Mark Medina, in Boston Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org