Lakers center Andrew Bynum snags a rebound from Nuggets center Kosta Koufos… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
As the Denver Nuggets set up barricades to stop Andrew Bynum, the Lakers center simply found a detour. As Denver kept the ball out of his hands, Bynum also kept it out of theirs. As the Nuggets believed they could devote every resource to take away his strengths, Bynum took away theirs.
Bynum scored only 10 points in the Lakers' 103-88 Game 1 victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets, but Lakers Coach Mike Brown rightly described him as the "difference in the game." Bynum didn't speak to reporters on the podium reserved for the game's top performers, but Kobe Bryant predicted Bynum "takes the majority of the headlines." It remains to be seen if Bynum will become one of the Lakers' storied centers, who include George Mikan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal. But he's already linked to them in history.
Bynum's triple double featured 10 points, 13 rebounds and a Lakers playoff-record 10 blocks, eclipsing Kareem Abdul Jabbar's nine in 1977 against Golden State and tying an NBA playoff record co-owned by Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon and Utah's Mark Eaton.
"The bottom line is wins," Bynum said. "Obviously I want to score more points, but sometimes that's not what's available to you so you have to do the next best thing."
Bynum couldn't score many points because Denver shuffled in its frontline combinations quickly -- Nuggets Coach George Karl compared it to hockey teams' switching lines. The Nuggets used an array of combinations, including Kosta Koufos, Al Harrington, JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov. The strategy ensured that Bynum didn't equal the 24.8 points on 66.1% shooting he averaged in four regular-season games against Denver.
But it hardly worked in other areas.
Bynum quickly passed out of double teams to ensure fluid ball movement, helping the starting lineup and Jordan Hill to post double figures. Bynum's help in the lane contributed to Ramon Sessions' holding Denver guard Ty Lawson to seven points. His seven-foot frame proved so intimidating that Harrington threw up an airball hook shot as he drove past Pau Gasol in one second-quarter sequence just to avoid Bynum. That was one example where Brown said Bynum "changed a gazillion shots in the paint."
"It makes us a championship-caliber team," Bryant said of Bynum's defensive presence.
But he hasn't displayed that characteristic consistently. Eighteen days ago, Bynum became the fifth player in Lakers history to grab 30 rebounds, in a game against San Antonio. But in five of his next six games, he averaged single digits in rebounds, and Brown actually sat Bynum out of last week's Oklahoma City game in the second quarter. After Jordan Hill surprised everyone with his energy and defense, Brown kept him in during the fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes.
Bynum may not replicate Sunday's blocked-shots total, but he needs to show that kind of commitment on defense.
"Andrew is just trying to grow into whatever he's trying to grow into," Brown said. "Sometimes he may do it the way you like it or the way I like it, but sometimes he won't. I don't think you can ever say definitively that he's arrived and he will go left or go right again. You just hope that he learns all the experiences he had in the past, whether they're positive or negative and that he's ready to play. I think he is."
Bynum at least did so in Game 1. He hardly showed frustration with the defensive pressure and, after the game, sounded eager to deal with it again. He had a similar attitude in the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston and last season when he strongly contributed to the Lakers' 17-1 record after the All-Star break.
Said Bynum: "If they take me out of the game offensively with the doubles and triples, I'll just look another way to be effective."