In the league? No. The honor of best big man still belongs to Dwight Howard. However, the Celtics are having a lot more trouble controlling Andrew Bynum than they did stymieing Superman. Much of the adversity the Celtics have stared down when it comes to guarding this mammoth seven-footer with unquestionable touch from five feet in, comes from the other Laker players of which the Celtics must be mindful.
In Game One, the Celtics tried to play everyone straight up and got the worst of both worlds. Kobe Bryant had a field day, consistently getting to the tin. Bryant mesmerized the Celtics help defense and didn’t even have to utilize a Rondo Behind the Back Ball Fake to do it. By playing straight up man-to-man, the Celtics Bigs also felt they could not completely leave their men to cut off penetration. The result? Kobe Bryant scored 30 points, Pau Gasol chipped in 23, and Andrew Bynum and his length were the beneficiaries of 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Without Bynum clogging up the paint, using his length to over-power Kendrick Perkins, and not allowing the Celtics to feel comfortable enough to play the necessary help-defense, the Lakers had a field day.
Something had to give in Game Two. Either the Celtics pack in the paint and bang bodies or they cut down penetration, take charges, and play tough, physical wing defense. They opted for the latter and Kobe Bryant finished the game with 21 points, and Andrew Bynum went off, matching his counterpart with an even 21 as well. The result? A nine point Celtics win.
If the Celtics continue to play tough defense outside the paint, Bynum will continue to punish the bigs with his superior size. There was not better showcase for this type of size and skill set than in last night’s game when Bynum accepted a lob pass with Glen Davis helplessly fronting him, trying to get high enough off the ground to hamper the pass. A similarly helpless Kendrick Perkins tried to swat the ball out of Bynum’s outstretched limbs but before he could get there, Bynum simply redirected that pass straight into the goal. No huge flush. No furious yell of triumph in the face of two helpless defenders. He just put his head down and ran back up the court.
The Celtics just do not have the tools to handle a guy like Bynum, but more importantly, a guy like Bynum on a team like the Lakers. Right now, Bynum’s offense does not consist of isolations on the block. His points are a factor of hanging around near the paint long enough for the Lakers’ wing players to realize that the Celtics lack the necessary physical attributes to match up.
Luckily for the C’s, they don’t have to match up. They have the luxury of letting Andrew Bynum beat them all day. This is, of course, if they do their job defensively on the rest of this Lakers team. The Celtics have to lull the Lakers into taking bad shots because “bad shots” for Andrew Bynum are damn-near impossible to come by. This is also mostly due to Bynum knowing his role. He is not going to try and back down Kendrick Perkins and over-power him. It is just not his game-yet. He’s going to continue to do what he’s been doing: running the low of the high-low to a T and making sure Celtics lay-ups are products of Rondo’s freakish ability to put it off the highest point on the glass instead of open driving lanes.
Something that may prove even more fortuitous for the Celtics is the fact that Bynum may have paid a heavy price for his impressive production. Bynum logged the most minutes in last night’s game than any of his previous playoff games this season (39). The closest Bynum came to this amount of time occurred at the start of this year’s playoffs in the opening round series against the Thunder. Bynum averaged around 30 minutes for that series before declining sharply in the Utah series (roughly 25 a game) and whittling to nearly nothing in the series against the Suns (roughly 18). Perhaps even more telling information for the Celtics is Bynum’s Jekyll and Hyde act he has put on in putting up points.
If you look at Bynum’s point totals for each game starting with Game Six of the Lakers Vs. Thunder series, they oscillate more than a “drinking bird”. Here, in order, are Bynum’s playoff point totals game by game:
21, 6, 8, 17, 0, 6, 4, 13, 2, 12, 2, 10, 10, 21
Despite reminding me of a popular access code that prevents random UNEXPLAINED surges in electromagnetism (can you tell I’m still bitter about the way this season played out?), they also show a distinct pattern in production. Obviously, point totals are not the end all be all and I would have to go back and watch every game Bynum has played in to adequately determine whether the defense became more attuned to his abilities, his torn meniscus was hampering his play, or he was just laying eggs most 22 year-old basketballs players are accustomed too.
If I had to venture to guess, I would say torn meniscus. I am no Doctor, but my professional opinion would be that having a torn meniscus sucks and playing basketball with that torn meniscus doesn’t do anything to ameliorate that situation. The minute numbers seem to substantiate this as well.
On April 27th, Bynum matched the point production he had last night in 27 minutes. The next game Bynumcored four points in the same amount of time. Those two games really served as the catalyst for Bynum’s decline in minutes. The next time Bynum played close to 30 minutes, he scored 14 points only to follow that up with 4 points in 20 minutes in the very next game.
If this trend holds up, the Celtics and their fans can only rejoice at the prospect of more time given to the smaller, more “corralable” Lamar Odom. This could in turn start a chain reaction where Garnett switches on to Odom as the Celtics and Lakers swap Superman and Kryptonite roles by giving Gasol the Perkins treatment instead of Garnett continuing be befuddled by Gasol.
Or this trend could stop. Bynum’ knee may finally be feeling close to normal. I mean, he did play back-to-back big minute games (28 and 39) and this is the NBA Finals. If there’s ever a time to suck up an injury and play, it is now. So far, Bynum has done exactly that and I think Celtics fans are waiting for that knee to give out or at least slow down.
There is no question the Lakers are better team with Bynum on the floor and in turn, the Celtics have a better chance of winning games with Bynum on the bench. Right now, the Celtics have to keep up what they did defensively in Game Two and if a casualty of that adds to Bynum’s star-power and legend than so be it.
That is, as long as it leads to Celtics’ W’s, of course.
* All box score information was provided by the lovely people at Basketball-Reference.com.