Andrew Bynum's Bad Knee Could Cost Lakers the Finals
Now he knows. And so does everyone else.
The Lakers can't win the NBA Finals without him coming back.
Bynum missed all but 12 minutes with a troublesome right knee that is growing progressively worse, leaving a void Thursday that was big enough for the Celtics to rumble through, allowing them to dominate around the basket in 96-89 victory.
It's the basket Bynum usually protects. And without their man in the middle, the Lakers suddenly look vulnerable again, raising concerns for the rest of the series that is now tied at two wins apiece.
"Offensively, I don't think it's a big problem without me, but defensively we're hurting, especially with all the size they have,'' Bynum said. "Without me in there, they were just attacking the basket. I've got to get right, real quick.''
Since the playoffs began, Bynum has been playing with a meniscus tear in his right knee -- he will have surgery after the season -- learning to manage the pain and control the swelling with constant treatment.
He has started and played in all 20 playoff games, but his effectiveness dropped when the swelling unexpectedly increased on Thursday, leaving him questionable now for the rest of the series.
He had no lift in his legs and no strength in the muscles around the knee, making him more of a hindrance than a help in his short time on the court.
"It kind of sucks right now because I can't do much,'' he said. "But hopefully, it will improve again. I'll have a better idea tomorrow.''
Bynum said he expects to have his knee re-examined Friday in Boston by a specialist from New York City. Game 5 is set for Sunday, giving him two days of treatment.
He said early in the playoffs that he was given assurances that playing on the bad knee would not damage it further, but he also said he would be asking that question to the medical staff again Friday.
"I expect to be back for Sunday,'' he said. "I need to be out there. It's not so much the pain, but it's how effective I can be.''
Without Bynum, who has grown into one of the better centers in the Western Conference, the Lakers were out-rebounded, 41-34. The Celtics got 16 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. If Bynum could have played, Celtics reserve forward "Big Baby" Glen Davis never would have scored 18 points around the basket.
"When Big Bynum is not out there, it really hurts us,'' said Lakers reserve guard Shannon Brown. "It's a big missing piece. It changes a lot of things because of his length and his size.''
Bynum averaged 13.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.67 blocked shots through the first three games of the Finals, negating the Celtics strength around the basket. Without Bynum, the Lakers lack the physicality of the Celtics.
"It bothered us in the second half, not having him out there,'' said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "It just wasn't there for him tonight. We're glad now we have a couple days off.''
Although Bynum, Jackson and his teammates said they expect him to play Sunday, they all said the same thing prior to Thursday's game, and it didn't happen.
The Lakers are too good and too experienced to panic over Bynum, but they also are showing concern, and with good reason.
"We didn't have that big presence in the middle, and Big Baby took full advantage of it,'' said Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who had a game-high 33 points. "We've played without him in the lineup before. I'm sure we'll figure it out. I'm not sure how yet.''
Bynum, now in his fifth NBA season, missed the playoffs in 2008 with knee problems, and the Lakers were beaten by the Celtics in the NBA Finals, for much the same reason they were beaten Thursday.
Without Bynum, it forces leaner and less physical Pau Gasol to move from power forward to center, and it gives considerable more playing time to Lamar Odom at power forward. He isn't very physical, either.
Odom also has not played well in the Finals. He had 10 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes Thursday, but he failed to slow Davis late in the game. And he was horrible in the first two games when he got in early foul trouble.
"When he is missing, it's hard to make up for what he gives us,'' Odom said of Bynum. "We needed to do a better job of adjusting to him not being out there. We didn't do that. And that's frustrating.''
Bryant had his best offensive game of the series, getting 33 points while making six of 11 3-pointers. Yet the absence of Bynum around the basket probably contributed to his seven turnovers because he was taking more chances with the ball.
If Bynum can't play for extended minutes, it will put a heavier burden on Bryant at both ends of the court, which could disrupt a lot of things.
In all four games of this series, the team that had more rebounds also won the game. And it's doubtful the Lakers can out-rebound the Celtics without Bynum back on the court.
Bynum started the game and played six minutes before leaving. He played another four minutes in the second period. When his teammates returned to the court to start the second half, he remained in the locker room for more treatment. He looked awful in his two second-half minutes before leaving the game again.
"We had a good rhythm with him in the lineup (in the playoffs),'' Bryant said. "We'll just have to figure it out.''