Nearly every time Andrew Bynum muscled his way inside, two barricades stopped his imposing presence.
One roadblock came in the form of Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, whose physical approach to defense suddenly prevented Bynum from bullying his way to the basket. The other barrier simply reflected Bynum missing routine hooks, post-up shots or "bunnies," as he likes to call them.
The Lakers' 99-96 victory Friday over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series featured Bynum shooting only two of 13 from the field, leading him to say, "My touch today was a little off around the rim." Yet, Lakers Coach Mike Brown gushed afterward that Bynum "was an absolute monster."
"It doesn't show up in the stats, but Drew was very active," Brown said. "Drew was doing a lot of stuff that nobody sees and nobody recognizes .… I can't tip my hat off to anybody more on our team than Andrew Bynum because of his activity and what we're asking him to do almost every single possession."
That's because Bynum ensured the Lakers reduced the Thunder's series lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1 by listening to the messages around him.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant mentioned how he overcame a six-of-24 shooting mark from the field in the team's Game 7 win over Boston in the 2010 NBA Finals by grabbing 15 rebounds. Bynum said he heeded Brown's advice by "thinking about the next play." And the yellow "Be The Difference" T-shirts worn by many of the 18,997 fans at Staples Center provided the bumper sticker slogan on how Bynum approached the game.
Bynum finished with 15 points by going 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. He grabbed 11 rebounds by maintaining his aggressiveness. Bynum capped the Lakers' wild finish by blocking Serge Ibaka's put-back attempt before the buzzer sounded, giving him three for the night.
"It's great for him," Bryant said of Bynum. "It shows a lot of professionalism and also a lot of growth in understanding the situation in what we need him to do. Even if you're not shooting the ball well, you're going to have to do other things."
Bynum hasn't always shared that mind-set.
In past games, Bryant found Bynum's defensive effort only existed if he played well offensively. He went scoreless in the first half of the Lakers' Game 3 first-round loss against Denver while Nuggets center JaVale McGee scored 16 points. After predicting the Lakers wouldn't have a problem closing out the Denver series with a win in Game 5, Bynum went four of 11 from the field and then acknowledged he lacked the "intensity" to stop McGee, who had 21 points. In the Lakers' Game 1 loss to Oklahoma City, Bynum often failed to contest open jumpers while helping defend pick-and-roll plays.
Yet, Bynum has answered the call in the last few games. He posted a playoff career-high 18 rebounds in the Lakers' Game 7 win over Denver. In the Lakers' Game 2 loss to Oklahoma City, Bynum played a large part in the Lakers' defensive scheme by contesting jumpers and holding the Thunder to a 42% shooting clip. He replicated the same effort in Game 3, limiting Oklahoma City to a 39.8% mark from the field.
"If we play defense," Bynum said, "we'll win games regardless of how poorly we shoot."
That includes himself.