There wasn't foul trouble or an injury or an ill-advised 3-pointer that had Andrew Bynum glued to the bench for all of the fourth quarter and during both overtimes in the Lakers' epic 114-106 come-from-behind win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
If you believe Lakers coach Mike Brown, it was simply a coaching decision to continue to ride backup big man Jordan Hill, who was playing his best game as a pro (14 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks), rather than an intentional benching to punish Bynum.
"That group that we had with Jordan and Pau [Gasol], they played well in the first half," Brown said. Hill played nine minutes in the second quarter when the Lakers were able to cut an 11-point deficit down to just one. Bynum played just five minutes in the second quarter. "So in the second half when we didn't play as well in the third quarter and I went with that group to start the fourth quarter and they went on a little run, I think it was a 10-point game at about the time that I usually put the big fella [Bynum] back in. I said, 'You know what? This group is playing well. Not only are they scoring some points and they're chipping into this thing little by little, but they're defending.' I said, 'I'm going to roll with this group.'"
Bynum played all 12 minutes in the third quarter, going 2-for-7 from the field as the Thunder turned a five-point halftime lead into a 16-point advantage headed into the fourth.
"From the standpoint that yes, Drew is 7-foot and he's an All-Star and he's played very well for us, that makes it tough, but it wasn't tough because I had a feeling," Brown said. "I had a gut feel, plus just watching the flow of game that group was playing extremely well on both ends of the floor and I felt there was plenty of time left for us to get a win."
Brown's gut feel didn't seem to sit well with Bynum as he appeared to become increasingly disengaged on the bench as the game dragged on through the fourth quarter and the subsequent overtimes. During several timeouts he was the lone Lakers player sitting down away from the huddle as the rest of his team stood up and fed off the energy of a tight ballgame with playoff seeding implications.
If Bynum was upset with Brown's substitution pattern however, he didn't say it with his actual vocal language after the game the way he did with his body language during the game.
"This is a team game," Bynum told reporters after the game. "I think [Brown] made the right decision. Jordan was playing phenomenal basketball. That unit brought the game back and he left him out there. I'm all for that."
Bynum finished with 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting to go with eight rebounds and five blocked shots in 29 minutes of playing time. He said his lack of playing time had nothing to do with the upper respiratory infection that had been bothering him the last several games.
Brown said Hill particularly gave the Lakers a lift with his pick-and-roll defense compared to Bynum.
"I did not think that Drew, and even Pau at times, the combination of both those bigs were up the floor in pick-and-roll coverage," Brown said. "Just Jordan Hill's activity at the point of the screen was better than all of our bigs combined tonight."
Added Brown: "I know in pick-and-roll coverage, if we tell our bigs -- whether it's Andrew or Pau or whoever -- to be up the floor, if you're not up the floor at the point of the screen and we're getting hurt and somebody is [playing up on screens], then somebody else is going to play. If we give our guys a coverage, then they've got to do it."
Brown would not place the blame purely on Bynum's effort. He suggested that Bynum sometimes should stay back in the lane rather than helping on pick-and-rolls because he feels like he has enough length to cover ground late should the guard get into the lane following the screen. That choice by Bynum goes against what Brown is asking him to do.
"Sometimes it is effort, sometimes I don't know what he's thinking," Brown said.
Bynum was critical of his own performance as well.
"I didn't think I was posting up hard," Bynum said, echoing his sentiments after a Lakers loss to the Wizards in March when he admitted he wasn't playing hard. "They were fronting me and I was just kind of letting it happen. I wasn't being aggressive. The only thing that needs to change being aggressive and I'm going come out aggressive in the next game."
Brown said Hill's surprise performance earned him playing time in the future as the Lakers head toward the playoffs, effectively leap-frogging him above Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy in the rotation for the time being.
It sounds like Bynum's defense will determine whether Hill will continue to dip into Bynum's minutes as well.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.