As it was when they left the media room just 12 hours prior, following Boston's win in Game 4, Andrew Bynum's(notes) absence and the resulting play of Boston's bench were fresh on the minds of both Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers on Friday.
Rivers, for his part, wanted to remind the media that Bynum often sits out of the fourth quarter, even when healthy.
"They miss him," he said, referring to Bynum. "I mean, he has great size and length, and we attacked the paint yesterday, and Andrew wasn't there. So I mean, obviously when he's not on the floor, there's a big difference. They miss him, but again, I still think usually in the fourth quarters or late, in the last six minutes of the game, it's usually Lamar Odom(notes) and [Pau] Gasol anyway."
Jackson says he has no new news on Bynum's status for Game 5, other to say that he'd be visiting a doctor later on Friday.
"If he can't get back in defense transition‑wise," Jackson warned, "and that's one of the things they're trying to attack with our first unit obviously when Andrew is out there is try and run, then obviously he's going to hurt the team.
"But even with him dragging the leg around a little bit, he still helped us in situations last night getting rebounds, that I thought a lot of our other guys ‑‑ got the ball knocked out of their hands, fumbled the ball, went out of bounds off of them. Andrew still has the length and the strength to capture rebounds that we need. So we'll use him if he's available and able, but we're certainly not going to put him in a situation that's either going to hurt himself or the team."
With Bynum out, Lamar Odom will most assuredly have to step up in order to contribute, especially on the defensive glass. After an underwhelming Game 3, confidence in Odom's abilities is at an all time low.
"He looked uncomfortable last night," Jackson said, referring to Odom, "and he got a couple double whammies go against him; Garnett out there for a while and then he had Davis coming at him, and things kind of snowballed on him. Lamar struggled two years ago in this series in this match‑up, and he has to break through kind of that mental gap that he had from that experience to move forward."
Odom's role in the offense is of his own design, he has responsibilities as a ball-handler for the Lakers, Jackson pointed out, but also the ability to play in the post or from the perimeter in the Laker offense.
"Match‑ups are key in important situations," Jackson continued. "Now we have to debate can Lamar actually play Davis in a situation in the course of a game or do we have to change the match‑ups? This has happened a couple times now. Those are the situations the coaching staff will go through. So we'll make those decisions in the next 48 hours."
Of course, it isn't a given that the Celtics will go back to their bench as prominently as they did in Game 4. Rivers was asked if the sterling bench play would encourage him to hand even more minutes to his reserves in Game 5.
"No, it'll encourage me to put them in at the normal time, and then if they play well ‑‑ but listen, last night was ‑‑ each game is a separate game as far as I'm concerned. You know, it goes by feel, and sometimes it goes by gut. I just felt like their intensity was at a level that our starters wouldn't have been able to match last night. And so you just ride them. But again, every game is a separate game."
"He has to be in some ways our Artest. That doesn't mean you're going to stop anybody. There's nobody, by the way, that's stopping Kobe Bryant(notes). If it is, I haven't met him or it because I don't think it would be a person. But you know, Tony's job is to come in, and his main focus is defense, just be a defensive player, and that allows you to guard the big guys because you don't have any other worries, about offense or rebounding. You're worried about your assignment. Whenever you pick somebody to do that, it gives them a chance to be a better defender, and I think that's what Tony is doing."
"Nate grew up during the playoffs. It took him a while. He bought in is a better way of putting it. I think he bought into what we were doing. It took him a while. When he first came in, he wanted to play like he had played all his career, and it just took him some time. You could tell in the practices, demeanors changed, he was less talk, he was focused, less mistakes, and when you do that, that gives the coach confidence to put you in the game, and I think that's what Nate has done."
"He's growing, he is, he's growing up as a guy in front of our eyes, and it's nice. That's one of the things we said when he got injured, or how he got injured, that he is young, and all the young players in our league, they don't have the comfort of growing up in private. They have to grow up in public, and that's not the easiest thing for some guys."
Phil Jackson, when pressed by a reporter, also had some kind words to say about his coaching counterpart:
"He's done well with match‑ups. He's done well in attacking some of our weaker guys out there on the floor in situations that's given them an advantage. I thought he's used his bench exceptionally well.
"As far as the other stuff, the players that he has on the team, they're all ‑‑ they're experienced players. During the regular season they knew what was important about the year. The year was important about coming in the playoffs and playing, the Garnetts and the Pierces and the Allens and the Wallaces, they've been through these things, they know a little bit about what's important. Sometimes those last 15, 20 games in the regular season can get to be arduous and you can beat a dead horse into a situation you don't want to get into, and I think Doc rode his team the right way. So they came into the playoffs knowing what was important."
And, to his credit, Jackson will not be pushing his team to try and provoke either Kendrick Perkins(notes) or Rasheed Wallace(notes) into their seventh technical foul of the playoffs, which would result in a one-game suspension:
"You can be provocative and get out there and act kind of like they do if you want to and get in people's faces and do that. But that's not the way I like to coach a team. That's not what I consider positive coaching, and that's what I like to think is the right way to do things."
The Lakers coach, while not telling the media that he thinks he has the series well in hand, is at least working on expected ground, with a clear focus as to what needs to come next.
"Well, I kind of anticipated this was going to be a back and forth series like this. I said this the other day, it's a lot of teeter‑totter here, despair and elation, but we're going to try and establish the fact that we're going back to LA with a 3‑2 lead. We believe we can do it. We felt we let one get away last night. We didn't think that the Celtics played well enough for three quarters, and we squandered our opportunities in the third quarter, and that we came out without the kind of energy you have to sustain in the fourth quarter situation like these."
All signs point to Game 5, with two full days of rest to work through. The pivotal game, and the most important contest of the year. Both teams are acutely aware that whoever takes Game 5 will likely be taking these NBA Finals.