Posted by Sekou Smith
LOS ANGELES — Andrew Bynum and Kendrick Perkins will be linked together forever after Thursday night and they might not have to play a second of basketball to make it happen.
The Lakers’ center and his Celtics counterpart are both ailing with right knee injuries and their status for Game 7 of these NBA Finals is in question (Bynum) and serious doubt (Perkins), respectively.
In a series filled with star players and star coaches on both sides, it’s become increasingly clear that the players most important to their respective teams are these two young big men.
You saw the Lakers in Games 4 and 5, when the torn meniscus Bynum has played on throughout this postseason started bothering him to the point where he couldn’t be effective. The Lakers were a different team without him taking up residence in the paint on both ends of the floor. They simply could not slow the Celtics down without him.
You saw the Celtics’ interior defense disintegrate before your eyes in Game 6 Tuesday night, moments after Perkins sprained ligaments in his right knee and had to be carried to the locker room by Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine with 5:30 to play in the first quarter. The Celtics couldn’t stop Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar from getting to the basket, let alone Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has to make the toughest decision. He has to decide who plays if Perkins cannot. Big Baby Davis and Rasheed Wallace will get first crack at those minutes. Shelden Williams better be ready to go as well.
“It’ll be one of two guys, Rasheed or Baby,” Rivers said after Game 6. “But I’m not sure. We’ve got to get better play out of Baby, and I told him that after the game. We do. He has to come with that same spirit he came in with for the famous Shrek and Donkey game. We need that again, and we need that from everybody.”
That means Kevin Garnett must dip his toes into the paint on both ends of the floor and play to his size if the Celtics are going to battle the Lakers inside in what is, as Garnett put it, the biggest game of the series, the season and the careers for all involved.
(Garnett has been splendid since rebounding from two ugly games to start this series, but he’s still avoiding the paint like the plague in favor of shooting face-up jumpers on offense.)
The bottom line, the team with the rebounding edge has won every game. It doesn’t matter if it’s a slight margin, like the Celtics’ 35-34 edge in Game 5, or a huge one, the Lakers dominated 52-39 with Perkins out of the mix in Game 6. That’s the one statistical factor that has held up throughout this series.
“It’s huge,” Gasol said. “When you out-rebound a team like we did [in Game 6], you’re giving yourself a huge advantage. So it’s really important that we continue to work extremely hard as a group, as a team, on the rebounding. Because it’s just something that you need to control and it gives you an advantage.”
With the uncertainty surrounding Bynum and Perkins, that advantage is up for grabs, just like everything else will be in Game 7.