The 46-17 Indiana Pacers did not need an infusion of talent coming into Tuesday night's game against the 22-41 Boston Celtics. This, after all, was a matchup of a legitimate title contender playing at home against a team essentially playing for next season. The Pacers fielded a lineup that included one former and two current All-Stars, with another player in Lance Stephenson who probably should have made the team this year.
What Indiana, loser of four straight, really needed was energy and enthusiasm. And it received it from new addition Andrew Bynum, who helped a lethargic Pacers club overcome the pesky Celtics, 94-83.
More than his numbers, which were excellent—eight points and 10 rebounds in only 16 minutes—was the spark he provided off the bench, particularly in the first half after Indiana looked noticeably lifeless in the early going. He appeared more than willing to do the dirty work inside with the Pacers' second unit.
It was the intensity, rather than the skill level, that was somewhat surprising. This was, after all, the same Bynum who was kicked off the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the season for what Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski described as "shooting the ball every time he touched it in a practice scrimmage...from whatever remote part of the court he had caught the ball."
It was the same Bynum who didn't play a single minute of the 2012-13 season for the Philadelphia 76ers after suffering knee problems exacerbated by bowling during rehab (via ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Chris Broussard).
The Pacers now employ one of the NBA's greatest enigmas—a 26-year-old center who made the All-Star team in his last full season (2011-12 with the Los Angeles Lakers), but was kicked off a Cavs team desperate to make the playoffs. He was talented enough for the Sixers to mortgage their future to trade for him, and erratic enough to set that franchise back at least two years.
The Pacers are fortunate to be an organization stable enough to keep the mercurial big man in line. The fact that they are so deep in the frontcourt makes Bynum much more of a luxury than a necessity.
The Bynum Effect
Bynum entered the game for the starter Hibbert at the 4:22 mark in the first quarter. He immediately made his presence felt in ways Hibbert had not.
The Celtics had no one who could contain Bynum down low. He threw down a vicious two-handed jam for his first two points as a Pacer. By the end of the quarter, he had five rebounds (two offensive).
He would go on to grab another three boards before being removed for Hibbert at the 8:54 mark of the second.
That's eight rebounds in a little more than eight first-half minutes. To put that into perspective, Hibbert has only had four entire games of at least eight rebounds since the beginning of February.
Bynum also showed a deft passing touch with a beautiful wrap-around pass to David West in the paint that had TrueHoop's Jared Wade wishing those skills would rub off on Hibbert:
Can Bynum teach Roy that move?— Jared Wade (@8pts9secs) March 11, 2014
The second half wasn't quite as dominant. Bynum did fill up the stat sheet in seven minutes with four points and two rebounds, but he also racked up three fouls and turned the ball over twice. Indiana was minus-10 with Bynum on the floor in the second half, a stretch that let the Celtics stay in the game.
The Pacers truly put the game away when Hibbert checked back in with the starters—a fact that led Basketball Insiders' Bill Ingram to warn people about giving Bynum too much credit for the win:
Nice stat line for Bynum, but important to note that Indy is -3 with him, +14 with Hibbert.— Bill Ingram (@TheRocketGuy) March 12, 2014
But Pacers head coach Frank Vogel was quite effusive with his praise of the backup big man after the game, per the Pacers' official website:
"He changes the game. He's a presence out there on both ends." - Coach Vogel on Andrew Bynum's play tonight— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) March 12, 2014
The Future of the Bynum-Pacers Pairing
Bleacher Report injury expert Will Carroll was at the game and observed some very positive things from the oft-injured big man:
Bynum looked very mobile on the floor. I watched him closely in pregame and he showed no significant deficits in movement. He appeared to be going through a progression and despite a large brace, he was still able to cut, stop and shift his weight.
Once the game started, Bynum used both his size and mobility to get inside and then jumped for a big dunk, igniting the crowd. He showed some strength and positioning, pulling down some strong rebounds. While he didn't play big minutes, he drew several double-teams and showed no problem getting up and down from the bench, even when he was forced to do so quickly after Roy Hibbert went down hard in the third quarter.
In a perfect world, Bynum would build off tonight's game and gain stamina for the playoffs where the Pacers could mow through the Eastern Conference thanks to their two All-Star-caliber centers.
But this is far from a perfect world, and Bynum is far from a perfect player. While he is more likely to contribute than Miami Heat center Greg Oden, he is a similar type of player: talented and brittle. Oden and Bynum are a couple of human lottery tickets.
The good news for Indiana is that Bynum looks ready to contribute right away. The Pacers have seen their once substantial lead over the Heat for the No. 1 seed shrink to just 1.5 games. They have been playing so poorly of late that they could really use Bynum right now, not just in some far-off Eastern Conference Finals.
This team has no long-term commitment to Bynum, so it might as well take whatever it can get from him. If the big man can swing a few games in Indiana's favor over the next few weeks, then he will have proved himself a shrewd investment, no matter what happens in the postseason.
*All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.