Lakers center Andrew Bynum prepares to shoot against Celtics power forward… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
When he coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mike Brown said, he was "always concerned" about Andrew Bynum but never had to focus on him because the Lakers' triangle offense guaranteed the 7-foot center wouldn't get many touches.
"And we knew at the end of the game he wasn't going to be on the floor," Brown said. "So we never had a game plan for him except for, 'Hey, box him out,' and that type of stuff."
Brown has a new perspective on Bynum as the Lakers' coach. He not only put Bynum on the floor for the last minutes against the Celtics at Staples Center on Sunday, Brown agreed when Kobe Bryant suggested drawing up a play for Bynum coming out of a timeout with 23.8 seconds left and the Lakers holding a one-point lead.
"We thought we had an advantage with 'Drew on the post," Brown said. "It was the right call at the right time."
And to the right person.
Bynum's six-foot hook shot, set up on a crisp pass from Metta World Peace, proved the difference in a 97-94 victory that triggered playoff-caliber hugs and mega-watt smiles from the Lakers. Bynum had 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds and brushed off the minor scare of bruising his right knee when he tried to split defenders Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the second quarter and instead banged legs with one of them.
Any bump to Bynum's knees is worrisome; he had a Synvisc injection in the right knee during the All-Star break to lubricate the joint as part of a long-term maintenance plan. Every time he leaps fans seem to hold their breath until he lands safely and not in a heap on the court clutching the tender right knee or the left kneecap that he partially dislocated during the 2007-08 season.
"I don't know where I could be if I didn't get hurt. We could talk about that all day," he said.
A cautious Bynum skipped the warmups before the second half but said pulling back hampered him during the third quarter, when the Celtics made 13 of 16 shots and matched the Lakers' 28 points. As a result, when that final play was formulated, Bynum thought he owed his teammates something and was eager to assume the role that Bryant has so often filled and have the ball in his hands with the game in the balance.
"I was actually looking forward to the opportunity. When they drew it up for me in the huddle, all I could think about is, 'I'd better make it,' and I did," said Bynum, who played 40 minutes and 48 seconds, more than five minutes above his season average. "It feels really good and hopefully I can get some more touches down there.
"I felt like I sold myself short a little bit. In the third quarter I didn't really do too much because of the injury or what happened. Once I realized I could play through it, it wasn't that bad. I was able to pick it up again."
It's tempting to declare this the day Bynum grew up, and maybe it will turn out that way and he will learn to thrive under pressure. Brown praised Bynum's low-post scoring potential and said Bynum's agility for his size is "off the charts," but Brown added a word of caution.
"He always puts himself in a predicament with me because every once in a while he'll show flashes of being able to sit down and stay in front of one of the quickest point guards out there and then he may fall asleep and not come over five feet to block a shot in time," Brown said.
"He's growing in a lot of different ways. He's growing against double teams, which he's starting to face every single night, and he's growing in the area of understanding, 'Hey, you know what I'm going to be a force in this game for a long time,' and if that's going to happen it's got to be for 48 minutes. Not 32, not 28, but 48 minutes.
"If he grows in those areas … ooh, look out."
And not just for his knees.