The play of Boston’s reserves in their 96-89 Game 4 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers has gotten well-deserved attention.
Nate Robinson’s explosive offense overwhelmed a Lakers defense so used to defending starter Rajon Rondo and his lack of range.
Rasheed Wallace continued his exemplary defensive postseason. In back-to-back series, he’s successfully shut down Dwight Howard, while severely limiting the effectiveness of Pau Gasol.
Tony Allen’s ankle is fully healed, and he’s been the defensive stopper the Celtics have needed to curtail Kobe Bryant’s basket assaults.
But the biggest story out of Game 4 was Andrew Bynum’s inability to play more than 12 minutes.
With Bynum unable to play, many of the things the Lakers did successfully over the first three games were unable to be sustained.
With Bynum’s length, strength, and surprisingly alert defense around the basket, Boston had trouble scoring in the paint with him in the game—especially he's paired with Pau Gasol. However, in Game 3, the Celtics took advantage of Gasol and Odom’s comparatively smaller, weaker defense to profit down low.
Glen Davis particularly took advantage of Bynum’s absence, using his quick feet to create space against Odom in the paint or off the dribble, and then using his massive frame to shield off defenders. When Bynum has helped on Davis, though, Big Baby can’t use his body to muscle Bynum out of the way, and Bynum’s length has made it near impossible for Davis to finish in traffic.
With Bynum out and Odom in, the Lakers monopoly on the boards came crashing down. Boston grabbed 16 offensive rebounds in Game 4.
Also, while Odom had his moments taking Davis off the dribble, Big Baby’s quick feet, and his teammates’ alert rotations and quick hands swiping at dribbles, make it tough for Odom to get to the hoop. It’s simply harder to get from the perimeter to the basket as opposed to having Bynum set up mere feet from the hoop where he can use his extreme length to finish over Davis.
Should Odom or Gasol wind up gassed or in foul trouble, the Lakers will have to rely on minutes from inferior players, such as D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell.
Indeed, while each team has advantages in some areas, and disadvantages in others, the series has virtually been a draw. Should Bynum not be able to go, the scales will firmly be tipped in Boston’s favor. It represents the biggest turning point in the series.
Of course the Lakers tried to pick up the slack. Bryant had an outstanding floor game, with correct decisions mixed in with brilliant shooting. With Boston adjusting their on-ball isolation and screen coverage, the Lakers ran more weak-side down screens to give Bryant openings along the perimeter.
His passing was likewise sharp, despite his poor assist to turnover ratio. Many of his passes put teammates in good positions to score, or make extra passes leading to good looks. If anything, Bryant was too passive, forcing the ball into openings that weren’t there.
Gasol still didn’t get enough attempts going 6-of-13 from the floor and 9-of-10 at the line for 9-10 21 points. He couldn’t find his own easy baskets because he only grabbed a single offensive board.
Ron Artest’s poor shooting has gotten into his head. He’s now extremely timid to let loose from the outside, and Paul Pierce has taken away his ability to score inside. All Artest can do is work hard on the offensive glass, grabbing four offensive boards in Game 4.
Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar were all outplayed by their bench counterparts.
Meanwhile, Boston won despite missing 13 layups and innumerable open shots. Kevin Garnett was often wide open as a safety valve at the free throw line whenever the Celtics ran a screen/fade or any kind of off-ball action at the basket. He simply missed four wide open uncontested jumpers.
Ray Allen found daylight in transition and off his perpetual motion, but still couldn’t find the touch connecting on only 4-of-11 field goals while missing all four 3-pointers he attempted. On some occasions, he’d put the ball on the floor after the Lakers smartly chased him off the line, but his finishing near the basket has been inept since the start of the series.
Pierce ran high screen and rolls to shake loose of Artest early in the game, rebounded strong, and always made the right pass, but was an afterthought after the initial quarter.
Rondo was able to shake and bake, but couldn’t drop the ball in the oven, missing six layups.
Allen missed layups, and exhibited poor shot selection.
Aside from an important late three, Wallace was invisible on offense.
But in Bynum’s absence, Davis was able to produce a monster game dropping 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Robinson's play making has gotten him off the bench and into the good graces of Boston’s coaching staff.
Despite so many sub par performances, Boston’s ability to capture Game 4 is a disheartening turn of events for the Lakers.
How the Lakers respond without Bynum, or with him severely hobbled will determine whether or not they win this year’s championship.