Bynum's absence dooms Lakers

You can talk about Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol all you want, but the Lakers can’t win the NBA title if Andrew Bynum is reduced to giving them 12 minutes in a game.

You can talk about Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol all you want, but the Los Angeles Lakers can’t win the NBA title if Andrew Bynum is reduced to giving them 12 minutes in a game.

And that’s all the Lakers got out of their starting center Thursday night when they lost Game 4 to the Boston Celtics, 96-89.

Playing with torn cartilage in his right knee, Bynum played less than 2 minutes of the second half. For the night, he provided only two points and three rebounds as the Celtics tied the series at 2.

“We didn’t have that big presence in the middle,’’ said Bryant. “And Big Baby (Glen Davis) took full advantage of it.’’

Without Bynum around, Davis and the rest of the Celtics enjoyed a field day inside. The Lakers were outrebounded, 20-14, in the second half, with the Celtics scoring 32 of their 54 points in the paint.

Bynum’s absence caused the predictable ripple effect. Lamar Odom had to play extra minutes in the second half and contributed only one defensive rebound in almost 22 minutes.

“It bothered us in the second half not having Andrew able to come out and play and start the second half,’’ coach Phil Jackson said. “He tried a couple of minutes and it just wasn’t there for him.’’

Like everyone else in the Finals, Bynum was playing his third game in five nights. But the heavy schedule seemed to affect him more than anyone else. At least he’ll have two days off before Game 5 on Sunday to get treatment for his knee.

“We’re glad we have a couple of days off and we can kind of get him back hopefully in a position where he can help us out again,’’ Jackson said.

It’s almost imperative that Bynum gets well soon.

The Lakers are not the same team without him, or with him when he's trying to play on one good knee.

Turnovers vex Bryant

Bryant is always a realist when it comes to his play.

So it was no surprise that after scoring 33 points Thursday, he preferred to look at his one big negative stat:

Seven turnovers.

“I wasn’t pleased with the way I took care of the ball,’’ he said. “I thought I did a horrible job of that. In terms of me having seven turnovers, that’s just me playing like crap.’’

Of course, Bryant had a couple of stretches when it looked like he’d take over and put his stamp on the game

He had seven of his 12 fourth-quarter points in a 1:40 stretch when the Lakers cut the Celtics’ lead to six with a minute to go. But he made his last and biggest turnover when he drove to the baseline and threw a soft pass back out to Odom. Rajon Rondo zipped in front, stole the ball and raced all the way downcourt for a layup and eight-point lead.

“It’s a great defense,’’ Bryant said. “It’s right up there with the best of them.’’

At times, Bryant did not look his best. He played the entire second half and missed nine of 14 shots in the fourth quarter. Was it his knee?

“No,’’ he said.

Absolutely not?

“No,’’ he said.

Bryant, of course, does not do excuses.

“He was tired,’’ Jackson said. “Physically, he had to work too hard in the course of the game. He couldn’t finish it out the way he wanted to finish it out.’’

So far, we haven’t seen a real big finish from Bryant in these Finals.

Pierce finds his rhythm

Held down in the first three games by Ron Artest’s physical defense, Paul Pierce came out and went right at the Lakers’ ace defender.

Pierce attacked the basket right from the start, scoring 10 of his 19 points in the first quarter. It was Pierce’s second-highest scoring night in the Finals. He had 24 in Game 1, but most of those came after the Lakers had already secured the win.

“Doc just told me to be aggressive at the start, put me in a couple of pick-and-rolls early, to try to get into the lane and that’s about it,’’ said Pierce, who had four of his seven baskets in the first quarter.

“I knew once I got in the pick-and-roll with their big men, I’ve got an advantage. And I tried to take advantage of it.’’

Pierce was more active, overall. He scored a couple of baskets early off strong cuts to the hoop. But Rivers also called his number more than he has to start off previous games.

“I don’t complain about the way the offense is going,’’ Pierce said. “Because at the end of the day it’s about winning games. My whole goal is to help us win games.’’

Stick with it

Nate Robinson isn’t going to get an expanded role just because he came up big in Game 4.

Robinson’s positives are often negated by his poor defense, turnovers and emotional outbursts.

So although he’s scored 24 points in 28 minutes in the last three games  — and at times he’s given L.A. more matchup problems than Rondo because he's a better perimeter shooter — he’ll continue in his same role.

Before Thursday, Robinson had only two other big games as a Celtic since coming to Boston at the trading deadline from the Knicks. He played big minutes when the Celtics closed out Orlando in Game 6, then helped in the Game 2 win in L.A. when he opened the fourth quarter and gave Boston good production as Rondo had to take a break.

Rivers will continue to hope that Robinson doesn’t start acting up. He did it Thursday, taunting Odom and picking up a technical.

“We don’t have to be tough, especially at whatever height you are,’’ Rivers said. “But that’s who he is. I’m sitting there in a suit and tie and if you’re watching in the arena, it’s easy for us to say, 'Rein it in.’ But he’s having fun.’’

The big thing was, Robinson’s fun didn’t get in the way of his production. In the fourth quarter, he scored six points and had two assists when the Celtics’ bench went on a 25-12 run against  Bryant, Odom, Pau Gasol and two Lakers reserves.

Baby, baby, baby

Coming off the bench for the Celtics, there’s Big Baby Davis, a little baby (Robinson) and one of the NBA’s all-time biggest crybabies, Rasheed Wallace.

The three babies did a lot of crying and also a lot of damage Thursday night.

That’s no surprise to coach Doc Rivers, who saw Wallace and Robinson pick up techicals as they were helping the Celtics build an 11-point fourth quarter lead. The only good news to come out of the two techs was that the Lakers missed both foul shots.

“That’s our most emotional group,’’ Rivers said. “We have a no-tech rule in the fourth quarter and that was blown out of the water.’’

Wallace now has six techs for the playoffs. So like teammate Kendrick Perkiins, if he picks up one more, he’ll be suspended for a game.

What was with Wallace leaving the bench and heading for the locker room, well before the final buzzer?

“We just didn’t want him to pick that other tech up sitting on the bench,’’ Rivers said, joking.

Actually, Wallace left to get to the locker room to get treatment for his ailing back. But you can bet that Rivers will be reminding Wallace that, from here on out, he has to quit his crying.

Read more of Mitch Lawrence's columns at the New York Daily News.

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