After the Los Angeles Lakers dropped Game 1 of their first round series to the New Orleans Hornets, all the talk centered around Chris Paul, Pau Gasol and the Lakers deficiencies on defense. After Wednesday night’s game, everyone should be talking about Andrew Bynum.
The Lakers center had a man-sized performance in Game 2, leading Los Angeles to an 87-78 win and helping restore some semblance of sanity to the Western Conference playoff picture. Bynum played 32 minutes, scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while also tallying an assist, a steal, two blocks and countless altered shots. In fact, while he led the Lakers in scoring, Bynum’s biggest contributions came on the defensive end.
The Lakers were ferocious defensively on Wednesday night, looking more like a team that has won back-to-back titles, not the one that was sleepwalking through an embarrassing Game One loss on Sunday. Los Angeles held the Hornets to just 32 points in the paint in Game 2, compared to the 52 New Orleans notched in Game 1. The Lakers’ length clearly bothered the Hornets as they shot just 39.1 percent from the field on the evening.
Bynum asserted himself throughout the night, muscling his way to rebounds and establishing great post position on both ends. When he got the ball on offense, he rarely hesitated and just went right to work. He was efficient, hitting 8-of-11 shots. Each bucket was important as Kobe Bryant struggled to find his rhythm with Trevor Ariza – one of the league’s best perimeter defenders – hounding him all night. Bryant finished with just 11 points, though he did play a fantastic game on defense.
For the second game in a row Gasol – Bynum’s post-mate – struggled to attack. In a team-high 36 minutes, Gasol scored just eight points, while grabbing five rebounds. The Spaniard did block three shots and drew several key fouls on the Hornets’ Emeka Okafor.
With Gasol struggling and Bryant being shadowed by Ariza, Bynum’s contributions in this series are just that much more important. For the first time in his career, Bynum finally feels like he’s (almost) fully healthy during the playoffs. The sixth-year pro is showing a confidence in his game we haven’t seen from him this late in a season.
People forget that Bynum is still just 23 years old. He’s still a pup, and hasn’t even sniffed his prime yet, but when he’s on he can be one of the elite post men in the game. Playing across from Gasol, Lamar Odom and Bryant hasn’t hurt his development either.
The Lakers are going to need strong efforts from everyone on their roster if they want to win a third consecutive title. On Wednesday night, Bynum and Ron Artest (15 points, six rebounds) and Odom (16 points, seven rebounds) did their part.