5 keys to Game 5 of Lakers-Celtics series
1. Andrew Bynum's health
This, of course, has been the ongoing storyline throughout the series, with Bynum experiencing varying success and problems with the torn cartilage in his right knee. He plans to start tonight in hopes that he'll have more of an impact after getting his knee drained followed Game 4. This may sound overly repetitive, and, believe me, it is. But this wouldn't be regurgitated so much if it wasn't so important.
I've mentioned in detail this last week the numerous ways he helps the team. But here's a quick recap: Bynum gives the Lakers easy buckets and rebounds. His length and size intimidates Boston from driving the lane and strengthens the team's defensive presence if the Celtics dare to try. His presence puts less pressure on Pau Gasol, both from a production level and from Boston focusing its efforts on him. And Bynum's presence allows Lamar Odom and Ron Artest to play the complementary roles they prefer.
2. What can Odom and Artest do?
Of course, anything involving Bynum's knee has only yielded unpredictable results. Bynum's fought valiantly through the injury and has done whatever he can to make the knee better. But the bottom line is that the swelling can flare up at any moment. So in the case Bynum is limited tonight, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has mentioned his hope that Lamar Odom and Ron Artest have big games. Both seemed to downplay the suggestion they need to have big contests, saying that the team comes first.
But in the case of Odom and Artest, their performances can negatively or positively affect the team. Odom's versatile skill-set is highly valued, and he'll need to use that in filling Bynum's void in the middle as well as helping out at running the point up top.
Artest doesn't need to suddenly start shooting. In fact, he shouldn't be. But constant off-ball movement may create some opportunities that wouldn't have been available otherwise.
3. Will Kobe Bryant take over a game?
Bryant had entered the NBA Finals playing in one of his finest postseasons in his career, posting at least 30 points in 10 of the last 12 games. But in the NBA Finals, his numbers have dropped to 28.3 points on 40% shooting. His stat line is a tad misleading. He scored 30 points in Game 1, scored only 21 points in Game 2 after being plagued by foul trouble, scored 29 points in Game 3 on a horrific 10-of-29 clip. And he scored 33 points in Game 4 on 10-of-22 shooting.
The statistics reveal less about the numbers than it does that Boston's made Bryant work for his points. He tried taking over in Game 3 but to no avail, and thankfully Derek Fisher was there to lead the Lakers to victory. Bryant tried again in Game 4, but Boston guard Tony Allen held him to a two-of-six shooting in the fourth quarter.
Bryant's surely motivated and capable of taking over in Game 5, but a lot of that depends on how much of a supporting cast the Lakers have as well as whether Boston can sustain its defensive pressure.
4. Will Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins pick up technical fouls?
Jackson has already ruled this out as a strategy, but we'll see what actually happens on the court. Both Wallace and Perkins are one whistle away from each picking up a seventh technical foul in the playoffs, which comes with a one-game suspension if they get it tonight or in Game 6. You never know with Wallace, who, by pure instinct, goes berserk almost anytime the referees call a foul on him. Perkins, meanwhile, has stayed level-headed knowing that he had entered the NBA Finals one technical away from missing a game.
5. Who will win on the hustle plays?
It's quantifiable to say that whoever won the rebounding battle has won the game in this series. It's been observed that whoever has grabbed the most loose balls and had the most hustle plays won the game. With how close this series has inevitably become, I had thought the outcome would hinge on execution. Amidst all the uncertainties regarding Bynum's knee, individual matchups and the officiating, the last area the Lakers want to leave up in the air involves their work ethic.
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