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Andrew Bynum steps up his play in Game 7

After being publicly criticized for inconsistency by Magic Johnson, the Lakers center posted 17 points and 18 rebounds to help L.A. secure a final victory over Denver to win the series.

May 13, 2012|By Mark Medina

The criticism came from all angles, and Andrew Bynum reacted to each of them accordingly.

Magic Johnson made headlines by arguing as an ESPN analyst that the Lakers should fire Coach Mike Brown if the Lakers lost their first-round series against Denver. Within the same breath, Johnson then suggested the Lakers forgo exercising Bynum's $16.1-million contract option after seeing his inconsistent effort throughout the playoffs.

"I don't have time to entertain stuff like that," Bynum said.

PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Nuggets, Game 7

Instead, he answered the call by posting 17 points, a playoff career-high 18 rebounds and four blocked shots to help the Lakers secure a 96-87 victory in Game 7 on Saturday over the Denver Nuggets.

"Drew was all over the place," Brown said.

Before, when the Lakers center was all over the place, it was not in a way the Lakers envisioned. During Friday's practice, Brown endlessly replayed clips of the Lakers' Game 5 and 6 losses featuring Bynum making mistakes in several facets of the game. The sequences featured Bynum slowly reacting on pick-and-roll defense. The film exposed him lacking aggressiveness on the boards. Those clips showed Bynum often sagging back on transition defense.

Bynum soaked in that game film and then came to a realization.

"Defensively is where I help the team," Bynum said. "If I come out aggressively like that, we're much better."

Bynum did so Saturday night by holding Denver reserve center JaVale McGee to six points on one-of-seven shooting, a far cry from the double-digit efforts he posted in Games 3 and 5. Bynum's six blocks somewhat mirrored the 10 he provided in Game 1, a mark that tied an NBA playoff record. Bynum routinely helped the Lakers backcourt of Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake switching on pick-and-rolls — so much that Blake noticed "he was down in a defensive stance every single possession."

"Power won over pace," Nuggets Coach George Karl said. "Size won over speed."

The Lakers didn't always fully benefit from Bynum's size advantage against Denver. In past games, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant found Bynum's defensive mind-set existed only if he played well offensively. He went scoreless in the first half of the Lakers' Game 3 loss and allowed McGee to score 16 points. After predicting the Lakers wouldn't have a problem closing out the series in Game 5, Bynum went four-of-11 shooting from the field and then acknowledged he lacked the "intensity" to stop McGee, who scored 21 points.

That's why Bryant took Bynum aside before the game, emphasizing the need to remain aggressive regardless of any persisting double teams that greet him in the post.

"He was ready to go," Bryant said. "Offensively he might not have had the type of Game 7 he had hoped for, but he respected their defense, honored the defense and he made huge contributions for us defensively."

Still, Gasol and Bynum thrived on offense with much more efficiency in Game 7 than when the two combined for five field goals in Game 6. This time, the two combined for 39 points and often hugged after setting each other up from the high to low post. They found the looks easier with Metta World Peace's return from suspension and the Lakers shooting 11 of 24 from three-point range.

"Our energy and activity and intensity was a lot better on both ends of the floor," Gasol said Saturday. "That sense of urgency we didn't have in the prior two games, we did have it tonight."

All it seemed to take for Bynum to reach that level was Johnson's public criticism, Brown's film session, Bryant's advice and Gasol's increased aggressiveness.

"We were playing against midgets out there," Bynum said. "We had to make them pay."

sports@latimes.com

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