Andrew Bynum is in control
LOS ANGELES -- It really was fortunate that the Los Angeles Lakers ended up matching up with the Denver Nuggets because there was no better foil to contrast Andrew Bynum's dominating, breakout performance on the playoff stage against than JaVale McGee.
McGee is 24, just like Bynum. And he's 7 feet tall, just like Bynum.
Yet while Bynum was cementing his place in playoff history by tying Hakeem Olajuwon's and Mark Eaton's playoff record of 10 blocked shots (and passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's franchise mark of nine) in the Lakers' 103-88 Game 1 win, the most memorable play McGee was involved with was missing a dunk over Pau Gasol and then going out of his way to walk to center court to try to get a glimpse of the replay on the video screen instead of going immediately to the bench when his team called timeout.
Bynum finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds and the aforementioned 10 blocks, registering the first triple-double of his seven-year career and the first triple-dip for the franchise since Magic Johnson did it against the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals.
That's right, that means Bynum has his playoff triple-double while Kobe Bryant's never had one in 209 career postseason games.
Meanwhile, McGee shot 0-for-6 from the floor, ended up with as many turnovers (two) as points, grabbed only six rebounds and blocked just one shot.
Granted, McGee is in only his fourth season and doesn't have the benefit of playing alongside another big as skilled as Pau Gasol, but the point of bringing him into the conversation is to ask: Do you still think Bynum is nothing but a knucklehead?
He's more like the most important person when it comes to the Lakers' championship chances this season.
"To me, the difference in the game is Andrew Bynum," Lakers coach Mike Brown told reporters. "He can control the game without shooting a single shot if he wanted to. He can literally control the game without taking a shot. That's how good he is. He had 10 blocks here, but I'd be curious to know or see how many he probably changed. He changed a gazillion shots in the paint."
When your coach is estimating you had "a gazillion" anything in a game and isn't talking about missed shots, turnovers or fouls, you're doing something right.
"He was phenomenal tonight and if he continues to play like he did, picking up the triple-double, being the type of monster he was tonight controlling that paint, we'll be playing a long time," Brown said.
Not only did Bynum come out and perform, he did it after putting himself in the spotlight Saturday, giving the Nuggets some bulletin-board material (or some e-mail fodder) by saying that the Lakers had to come out with a "statement" and "needed" to win Game 1.
Bryant, who scored the quietest 31 points you'll ever see against a backdrop of Bynum swatting everything in sight, was asked if he liked Bynum being the spokesman declaring goals for the team and then going out and backing it up on the court.
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"I like him being who he is," Bryant said. "Just being himself."
Bynum is a player who is changing the public's perception of him almost daily. You think he cares only about his own numbers? Then he shoots just seven shots and doesn't force anything when the Nuggets doubled him all day. You think his body is fragile and not built for the wear and tear of the NBA? Then you see him chasing down his 10th blocked shot in his 34th minute of playing time.
"I feel like I just am comfortable and this is my job," Bynum said, opting to conduct his postgame interview in front of his locker icing his feet in a bucket rather than going into the interview room to get the star treatment on live TV. "This is what I do, day in and day out. It's just more about that than anything else."
Bynum's 10 blocks set the defensive tone as the Lakers set a franchise record with 15 blocked shots as a team and held Denver, the league's leading scoring team, to 15 points below their season average. They shot an abysmal 35.6 percent from the field, the lowest the Nuggets shot all year.
"On defense, it's always just about heart," Bynum said. "You can stop anybody if you really move your feet and really get down but a lot of players don't want to do it on a consistent basis. They more do it when they have to."
Bynum was asked if he felt any pressure by Brown pinning the Lakers' postseason hopes on him.
"It's not pressure, it's just the truth," Bynum said. "If I come out and play defense, this team is a lot better."
It's also fortunate that Bynum's effort came in a dominating win, showing just how different things have become since last year's playoffs when the Lakers opened up the postseason with a foreboding loss to the New Orleans Hornets before being swept out of the second round by Dallas.
"I think we're a little bit more focused this year than we were last year," Bynum said.
He was talking about the team, but he might as well been talking about himself.