For the record, last night’s lackluster performance was not the sole responsibility of Andrew Bynum. That said, if you’re going to ‘talk the talk’…then I’m going to need you to back it up with some inspired play on the court. While 16 points, 11 rebounds are nothing to totally disregard, it was the all-around lackadaisical approach that ultimately sealed the Lakers’ fate.
Don’t get me wrong, Bynum is not alone in this, as Pau Gasol (4-11 FGs) and Ramon Sessions (3-12 FGs) can definitely shoulder their portion of the blame. Not to mention the Lakers point guards permitting Andre Miller to rattle off 24 points, eight assists on 8-11 FGs. Combined, Denver’s point guards torched the Lakers for 33 points, 16 assists (compared to 17/10 for L.A.). The only player that looked as though they understood the magnitude of the game, to no surprise, was Kobe Bryant. Although he struggled to fight off the collective apathy over the course of the game, Bryant mounted one of his textbook offensive surges while digging the Lakers out of a deep 4th quarter hole. Unfortunately, it was a case of ‘too little, too late’, as the Lakers fell just short and find themselves heading back to Denver for Game 6 (Thursday).
Where does that leave the Lakers? Obviously, things are not completely upside down, with a 3-2 series lead. Trouble is, the Lakers have permitted this over-matched Denver team to believe they can steal this series. Can you blame them? Having just won in LA, and heading home, one could see why they would have an elevated sense of confidence. Not to mention, JaVale McGee, regardless of what anyone outside of Denver thinks of him, has been a problem for the Lakers’ big men in the two Denver victories. I don’t want to hear any excuses about not arriving to the arena on time (should never be the case, anyway), or anything of that nature. McGee is a highly athletic, but extremely limited player that just rammed 21 points, 14 rebounds, and two blocks down the Laker bigs’ throats.
In case you missed it, Bynum went on record saying “closing out teams is actually pretty easy…,” but we all know that isn’t anywhere near the case. Bynum fans would like you to forget that statement. Had his play backed his talk, everyone would have. His detractors just add that to an ever-lengthening list of knuckleheaded acts/comments from the budding superstar. As someone that simply speaks the truth (regardless of how much difficult it may be to accept), my patience has worn very thin with the enigmatic star over the course of this roller coaster season. The mere fact that Bynum would even say something as unnecessary as that, regardless of what questions he was asked, simply denotes the same level of immaturity that has plagued him all year.
To address the elephant in the room, the reason Bynum ‘thought’ closeout games were easy, is because he’s never been asked to do the “heavy lifting” in the biggest moments. While a member of several Laker title squads, his injuries have limited Bynum’s true exposure to such moments. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Bryant knows that. Gasol should know that. If Tuesday’s disappointing loss didn’t drive that point home with Bynum, I don’t know what could.
I’ve been on record, saying Andrew Bynum possesses the skill-set that could make him the most dominant big man in the game. I stand by that statement, as I always offer the caveat of “just so long as he can control his emotions and remain focused.” You cannot get outworked and outclassed by JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, and expect to compete against the likes of Oklahoma City, let alone contend for a title. There’s no rocket science behind how the Lakers need to play. When they come out with maximum effort, respect the ‘team concepts’, and stay focused, the Lakers are tough to beat on any night. Trouble is, with this team, you simply never know when to expect such an effort.
One thing is certain, the Nuggets will be primed and ready to play at that mile-high elevation on Thursday night. I’ve said this throughout the season (now, multiple times), but it is time for Andrew Bynum and the rest of his Lakers to simply ‘shut up’ and play. If you want to be the proverbial “man”, then simply play like the man. While some of the players and fans may have ‘thought’ it would be easy to close the door on the Nuggets. those of us with a clue realize just how tough it actually is.
Again, all is not completely lost, as Bynum can atone for his flippant comment by simply bringing a max effort in Game 6. After all, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to head directly into OKC coming off back-to-back road playoff victories. One (potential) silver lining… if the Lakers are able to close things out on Thursday, then Metta World Peace’s services will be available heading into what would likely be a Game 1 in Oklahoma City on Sunday.