For a guy who just scored 27 points and found himself on the winning end of a second consecutive playoff game, Andrew Bynum was in a lousy mood.
His answers, most of them anyway, are not worth repeating. It’s not that they were offensive, just conspicuously short. Finally, someone thought to ask him why.
“I left a lot on the court today,” he said. “I worked way too hard before the game to let that happen. I could have had a perfect game.”
A perfect game? It’s about as rare in basketball as it is in baseball, though even more difficult to quantify. If there were any real revelation in Bynum’s remark, it was his opinion of himself, an idea (a conceit, really) that perfection was within his grasp.
“He expects greatness out of himself,” said Kobe Bryant. “He believes he can have monster games on a consistent basis like he did last game.”
The last game, you may recall, saw Bynum go for one of the most interesting lines you’ll see: 10 points, 13 boards and 10 blocks. Tuesday night’s effort was meager in comparison: 27 points, two blocks and nine rebounds. Not even a double-double. No wonder the kid sounded like he wanted to jump off a bridge.
Still more striking than Bynum’s sullenness is his nascent Kobe-ness. Twenty-seven points weren’t enough. Nor were the 20 shots, most of which came at the expense of his teammate, Pau Gasol.
“I don’t get as many looks as I used to, especially down in the post, because Andrew is taking up a lot of that,” said Gasol, who led the Lakers in assists for the second time in as many games Tuesday, a 104-100 win over the Denver Nuggets.
“Just trying to find my open teammates . . . and give easy looks to Andrew.”
Gasol is conceding some of his role as a scorer, and with it, a piece of superstar status (not that it seems to matter much to him). Meanwhile, Bynum is becoming more like Bryant, which is to say, a lot is still not enough.
The prospect of a mere 27 points could infuriate Kobe. Why shouldn’t a single-double make Bynum despondent? This insistence on perfection might drive him a little crazy. But for the Lakers, it’s a good thing. It’s tough to emerge as a great player — especially on a team with Kobe Bryant — if you’re not willing to be at least mildly insufferable.
The Lakers are evolving, and quite rapidly. Tuesday’s game saw Bynum and Bryant combine for 65 points. The two have now combined for 65 or more five times in Bynum’s seven seasons. The first of these games dates back to 2007, against Portland. Bryant scored 65. Bynum had 6.
However, it’s happened three times in the last six weeks. In March, Bynum had 37 to Bryant’s 34 at Memphis. Last month, he had 36 (and Bryant just 31) against the Clippers.
So you see what I mean about evolving? I’m not saying the Lakers are due to win anything, just that no one’s beating them on a night when Bynum and Bryant combine for, say, 60 points.
“It’s tough when you play against us, because there are legitimately three guys on the post that you have to double-team,” said Bryant.
The Nuggets don’t need to be reminded of this. What happened Tuesday night at Staples Center was both exceedingly familiar (Kobe scoring 38 on 29 shots) and novel. The Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers. They also beat Los Angeles as measured by points in the paint (60-52), second-chance points (26-19) and fast-break points (30-15).
Still, the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Its outcome never felt in doubt, not with Bryant and Bynum playing as they did.
Later, Bryant spoke of their time in Orlando this past February. Seven seasons into his pro career, Bynum finally made the All-Star team. Apparently, it was one of the first times the two spent any quality time together.
It was then, said Bryant, “when we cemented our bond.”
I’d have asked Bynum, but by then he was gone. Then again, he’d already answered the question.
His bond with Bryant? It’s that which plagues most real stars — chronic dissatisfaction, of course.