Reporting from Boston -- Somewhere on the way to a commanding lead in the NBA Finals, the Lakers entered a time-space continuum of sorts, drifting back two years ago to their less-memorable days when the Boston Celtics pounded them over and over in the NBA Finals.
The Lakers found out Thursday how much Andrew Bynum meant to them, fading in the second half against the more physical Celtics, 96-89, and finding themselves pulled into a 2-2 deadlock in the Finals.
The Lakers’ center had only two points and three rebounds in 12 injury-shortened minutes, the 22-year-old unable to muster much because of a swollen right knee.
It didn’t help that the Celtics’ reserves thoroughly outplayed those of the Lakers, that Lamar Odom did next to nothing and Kobe Bryant looked fatigued, according to Coach Phil Jackson.
Not good signs for the Lakers, any of them.
The pluck they showed in taking Game 3 in Boston was gone by the time the second half rolled around in Game 4 at TD Garden, a onetime eight-point lead evaporating when it became apparent Bynum wouldn’t be a factor, playing only 1:50 after halftime.
The Lakers turned their eyes to his knee almost as soon as the game ended. Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday, also at TD Garden.
“We didn’t have that big presence in the middle and they took full advantage of it,” Kobe Bryant said.
Did they ever.
Bynum has fought through knee pain for six weeks after sustaining torn cartilage in the first round against Oklahoma City, but he couldn’t tolerate it any longer, saying, “I didn’t really have any strength in the leg.”
It was no coincidence that the Lakers got pummeled in the paint, 54-34, and outrebounded 41-34. Second-chance point also went the Celtics’ way, 20-10.
Reserve forward Glen Davis got the best of Odom, scoring 18 points on seven-for-10 shooting. Reserve guard Nate Robinson was also a factor, scoring 12 points to jump-start the fourth quarter for the Celtics.
Bryant tried to keep the Lakers in the game with his three-point shooting, making six of 11 from behind the arc and finishing with 33 points, but he had little help and also had seven turnovers.
Pau Gasol had 21 points in 44 minutes but made only six of 13 shots, had four turnovers and took only six rebounds.
Beyond Bryant and Gasol, Odom was the only other player in double figure-scoring for the Lakers, finishing with 10 points but taking only one rebound in 22 minutes in the second half.
The Lakers held a 45-42 edge at halftime but were eventually undone by scoring only 17 points in the third quarter and giving up 36 points in the fourth.
“They got all the energy points, the hustle points, second-chance points, points in the paint, beat us to the loose balls,” Bryant said. “I mean, that’s how the game turned around.”
The Lakers’ third quarter showed shades of the 2008 Finals, with Odom’s contributions at a minimum and Gasol sometimes shoved from the post toward the three-point line by Kendrick Perkins.
“I thought Lamar was going to kind of sit this one out,” Jackson said. “I thought the scoring Davis did at the other end of the floor affected his game.”
Despite it all, the Lakers were within six and had the ball, but Rajon Rondo stole it and scored at the other end after Bryant got stuck in the air on a drive and tried to pass to Odom with 33.9 seconds left.
“He was tired,” Jackson said. “Physically I thought he had to work too hard in the course of the game and he couldn’t finish it out the way he wanted to finish it out.”
Bryant, of course, denied fatigue was a factor.
“Nope,” he said, obviously not wanting to explore the topic further.
Fisher, the Game 3 hero for the Lakers, had only six points. Paul Pierce got the best of Ron Artest, collecting 19 points, six rebounds and five assists, though he also had five turnovers.
“That was a tough game all around,” Gasol said.
There was no argument from anybody on the Lakers.
The Celtics were more physical. They were back in the series.
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