Lakers' 96-89 Game 4 loss to Boston Celtics shows team will be in trouble without Andrew Bynum
Time and again, the Lakers quickly saw what life could be like without center Andrew Bynum. They saw it when Boston physically intimidated them in the paint. They saw it when they didn't hustle for loose balls. And they saw it when the Celtics' fourth-quarter bench effort proved overwhelming against a flimsy Lakers defense.
With Bynum sitting out all but 1:50 of the second half because of increased swelling in the torn cartilage in his right knee, the Lakers' execution in their 96-89 Game 4 NBA Finals loss Thursday to the Boston Celtics appeared as disheveled as the assorted water bottles, ankle tape and socks that remained afterward in the Lakers' locker room. Bynum said he plans to play in Game 5 Sunday, although that answer speaks more to his optimism than actual diagnosis. If the Lakers' performance in Game 4 serves as any indication, however, the Lakers better hope Bynum provides more than a limited run in Game 5.
The Celtics tying the series at 2-2 shouldn't be alarming. The Lakers still have home-court advantage and it was expected this would be a competitive series. But unfortunately for the Lakers, they've rarely responded well this season without Bynum's presence. And the latest case study couldn't come at a worse time as the Lakers are two wins away from a second consecutive title.
"Especially with Andrew out of the game, we have to move the ball and be quicker," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who scored 10 points on five of 10 shooting and started the second half in place of Bynum. "We can't just stand around and watch. Without him in the game, that's not our strength."
Yet, there's a reason Odom cited the team's failure to move the ball 14 different times during a more than seven-minute postgame interview. He likely emphasized that point even more as he patiently waited to answer every reporter's question. If only the Lakers executed as clearly as Odom's explanation for the team's shortcomings.
The Celtics won in many categories, including rebounds (41-34), points in the paint (54-34) and second-chance points (20-10). Glen Davis' 18 points mostly came against an overmatched Odom and was part of the Celtics' 38-point effort from the bench. Even though Bynum had averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 32 minutes a game, a stat line that exceeds his playoff total this postseason in both production and playing time, Lakers guard Derek Fisher wouldn't pin the loss solely on Bynum's limitations.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scored 33 points on 10 of 22 shooting, but Tony Allen's defense held him to a two of four clip and he committed seven turnovers. With Bryant appearing tired in Jackson's eyes, he acknowledged his own failure with allocating minutes. To put a further dent in the rotation, Fisher collected his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, putting even more pressure on Bryant and the team's ineffective bench. And though Pau Gasol scored 21 points on six of 13 shooting, the Lakers' lacking depth in the post allowed the Celtics' defense, led by an erratic Rasheed Wallace, to narrow their concentration.
"When he's out and not available, that makes it tougher for us," Fisher said of Bynum. "There are still some things we can accomplish out there to get the job done. Some of it was desire and wanting it. I'm not questioning my guys in terms of wanting it, but they beat us to the ball and got to some things quicker than us."
Even though the Lakers lacked in several areas of the game, many of those shortcomings were rooted in the fact that they didn't know how to respond with Bynum out of the normal rotation. That doesn't mean the Lakers don't have the capability to absorb his loss or limitation. They just haven't shown a pattern that they could all season. The Lakers went 6-7 when he missed the final 13 games of the regular season because of a strained left Achilles' tendon. As in Game 4, the absence prompted Gasol to move to center and Odom to play more minutes, meaning there's less of a height presence, less depth on the front line and a bench without Odom as its leader. "He'll be ready," Lakers forward Ron Artest predicted of Bynum. The Lakers sure hope so. Their season depends on it.
Photo: Celtics forward Glen Davis tries to muscle up a shot against Lakers center Andrew Bynum during Game 4 on Thursday night at TD Garden in Boston. Credit: CJ Gunther/ EPA.