Posted Apr 21 2011 7:46AM
Striding down the back corridors of Staples Center just before 11 p.m. on Wednesday, gobbling up pavement from the hallway near the locker room to the loading dock and his car with each step from his 7-foot frame, Andrew Bynum was a solitary figure, accompanied only by a white towel in one hand and a paperback in the other.
He stands out no matter what. Even on a team with a superstar in Kobe Bryant, an All-Star in Pau Gasol, a semi-star in Lamar Odom and an eccentric in Ron Artest, Bynum is indisputably one of the lasting talking points of the Lakers -- for the good and the bad and, of course, the injuries. He is eternally part of the conversation.
It's nights like this that remind us why. The Lakers are coming off a poor showing three days earlier and their inside game is under scrutiny after being shown up by the smaller Hornets. So, Bynum uses the Lakers' 87-78 victory in Game 2 at Staples Center to show everyone again he is worth the growing pains.
It didn't even take the entire night to make his point. Bynum needed the second quarter, and not even all of it -- only a few minutes were needed.
On defense: Marco Belinelli was about to make an ill-advised swing pass from the left side of the court, near the New Orleans bench, to Trevor Ariza on the right side. Bynum had started the defensive turn at the other end of the floor, close to the baseline as the Hornets pushed the ball in a continuing attempt to use speed to counter L.A.'s size advantage. He caught up to the play and intercepted Belinelli's throw. Pau Gasol then hit a short jumper for the Lakers, and what had been a tie at the start of the quarter became a 12-point lead.
On offense: Ron Artest blocked a Belinelli shot. Bynum got behind the New Orleans defense, inexcusable for a team that decreed the transition game as a must-win department. Kobe Bryant spotted Bynum and whipped a pass into the lane. All ex-Laker D.J. Mbenga could do was foul before the shot. Bynum generated havoc even if rumbling past half court and into the lane did not lead directly to points.
Bynum turned the second quarter -- where he was 3-for-3 from the field, with three rebounds and one block -- and the second quarter turned at least the game and maybe the series. Lose Wednesday to head to New Orleans down 0-2 and anything is possible, and not in the way anything is possible for clubs who don't routinely pour gasoline around the room and flick lit matches for grins. The Lakers may have actually had to sweat.
Bynum at the intersection of playoff success, however early in the process. That's rich. Not the three or four players L.A. knows it can trust -- Bryant, Gasol, Odom, maybe even Derek Fisher, because few on any team have delivered as many clutch postseason moments -- but the guy best known for making mild contributions through knee injuries in previous springs.
This is why he is worth the trouble, because Bynum is a game-changer even as a 23-year-old and a distant option on offense. This is why Game 2 left more of a statement than merely 1-1.
"Everybody is going to get his chance, and this is his time as far as the arrival of Andrew Bynum," Odom said. "This is his time to kind of show everyone what he can do, whether it's on the ball or off the ball. Just his disposition, how he rebounds, the way he protects the basket. He's doing everything at a high level. He's doing it kind of with a ferocious style, you know what I mean? He's playing hard. He's playing tough. He's playing intimidating basketball. That's what we love from him."
In his second game back after a knee injury that could have ended his 2010-11 season, Bynum made eight of 11 attempts, scored a team-high 17 points and had a game-high 11 rebounds in 32 minutes before fouling out.
Those Game 2 numbers would have been meaningful no matter what. On the same night, though, that Bryant had 11 points on three-of-10 shooting and Gasol remained a non-factor with eight points and five rebounds in 36 invisible minutes, the Bynum contribution was urgent.
"I think during the beginning of the game, they were starting to get layups again," Bynum said. "Chris Paul was kind of bringing us down. It was just getting annoying. We watched Game 1 four times (on film). It was painful every single time, and we played in it. So that's really five times of looking at the tape and studying the game. It just got annoying. I wanted to go out there and see if I could change things up."
That he did. Bynum changed the quarter and the game and maybe even the series, while reminding -- in general -- what could be. On an impactful Wednesday, he stood alone.
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