LOS ANGELES – Andrew Bynum(notes) removed the large bag of ice from his right knee and began his slow walk out of the Staples Center. He carried a limp with him, and by the looks of his haggard gait, basketball didn't seem like it should rank high on Bynum's list of preferred activities.
Instead, however, the Los Angeles Lakers' young center couldn't be happier. He's found a series – and an opponent – that suits him in these NBA Finals. He might not be moving too fast, but then neither are the Boston Celtics.
"It makes the game much better for me," Bynum said. "When I'm healthy, I'm able to still run and take advantage of smaller guys. In this kind of a traditional game, there is a lot less up and down, a lot less stress on my knee.
"It's going to be more minutes for me. It's going to mean more effectiveness."
The minutes are key. The Lakers aren't expecting a lot out of Bynum because of his right knee injury, but they would like him on the court as much as possible to provide Pau Gasol(notes) some additional size to help counter the Celtics' big frontline. Bynum contributed 10 points and six rebounds in Game 1 – modest numbers, but they came in an effective 28 minutes, something the Lakers weren't sure he could give because of his health.
Bynum's been playing with a small cartilage tear in his right knee since the Lakers' first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has put off surgery – which, he says, would have sidelined him for three to seven weeks – because injuries caused him to miss the 2008 Finals and limited him in last year's championship run. Facing the fast-paced Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals only exacerbated the injury, and Bynum had his knee drained of fluid a few days before the start of the NBA Finals. By the next day, however, the swelling returned.
Bynum doesn't regret passing on surgery, even though he potentially could have been close to full strength by now.
"Especially with me being so big, 7 feet, there is a lot of weight on the knees," Bynum said. "You don't know how long the rehab would have taken. If it would have went well, I would have been able to play in three weeks and it would have benefitted probably. But there is no telling.
"I could have missed the whole thing. That's why I didn't want to do it."
The Suns' up-tempo style challenged him the most of any series. After he played just seven foul-filled minutes in a Game 3 loss, it was widely questioned whether the Lakers would be better off resting him for the remainder of the conference finals. Bynum remained determined to keep playing.
"It's like the stock market some days," Bynum said of his knee. "Some days I have a lot of swelling. Some days, not too much. It's up and down, it's fluctuating."
The Celtics play much more of a half-court game, which helps Bynum. Boston's starting center, Kendrick Perkins(notes), bangs in the post, and forward Kevin Garnett(notes) has been slowed by his own knee injury.
After eliminating the Suns a week ago, Bynum smiled widely at the promise of playing the Celtics in the Finals. His 28 minutes in Game 1 were his most since he played 29 in Game 2 of the Lakers' second-round series against the Utah Jazz.
"He's excited about the series," Kobe Bryant(notes) said. "His matchup with Kendrick is a good one for him. Kendrick is a hell of a defender on the low post, so he was excited about that. The last series was tough for him. The Oklahoma series, as well, because he did a lot of running and he had guys that were really fast, and it's tough for his knee to get up and down that much."
Bynum said his knee has minimal swelling after Game 1 and didn't feel any worse. Having two off days before Sunday's Game 2 also benefits him. He graded his Game 1 performance with a "B," and hopes to be more active, rebound better and be stronger offensively. But he also believes the Lakers would be happy with similar production if he can average close to 30 minutes the rest of the Finals.
"That's what's been asked of me and that's what I feel I can do," Bynum said. "I honestly believe it. I'm just going to go out there and play hard."
For a 22-year-old whose maturity has often been questioned, Bynum could reap two rewards for his determination to keep playing: the chance to contribute in the NBA Finals in the league's most storied rivalry; and the ability to earn some respect from his teammates.
"He understands opportunities, and he wasn't there with us in '08," Bryant said. "He was there last year and he has an opportunity in front of himself this time around. He wants to take advantage of it."