"We're still optimistic that he's going to give it a shot and see how he does,'' said Lakers coach Phil Jackson of his 22-year-old center, who had the knee drained Friday for the second time in as many weeks. "He's had a day of therapy, and he can start getting some movement and maybe start activating himself (Sunday) and get himself going.''
Game 5 is typically the breakthrough event in a tight series. The Celtics must win Sunday to avoid traveling back to Los Angeles in need of victories in both Games 6 and 7. The Lakers may be able to survive a loss in Game 5 with hope of holding home court for the final two games, though Bynum's health will influence their confidence.
Through the first three games, Bynum had averaged an impressive 13.3 points to go with the far more important 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He and fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol were combining for 6.4 blocks per game while helping to dissuade Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce from driving their way.
Bynum missed the last month of the regular season after suffering a meniscus tear that limited him in the Western Conference finals. The knee was drained before the Finals, liberating him to play a career postseason best 39 minutes in Game 2. But he felt a twinge while coming to a hard stop in the third quarter of Game 3 that prevented him from playing eight minutes in the fourth quarter. He managed to play only 12 minutes with no blocks in the Lakers' Game 4 loss Thursday.
The procedure worked before, so the Lakers are hoping for similar results as they approach a span that could bring three championship-deciding games over five days with a cross-country flight in between.
"It was either not play or do the draining,'' said Bynum. "Just too much swelling in there ... But I'm doing OK. The draining worked, and on Sunday I'm going to be ready to go.''
In Bynum's absence, the Celtics suffered no more than three blocked shots while attacking the basket for a 20-point advantage in the paint and a 20-10 lead in second-chance points. The Lakers' short bench grew even shorter, leaving Jackson to note that his starters looked fatigued by game's end.
The most important aspect of Game 5 -- one that will be impacted by Bynum's readiness -- is rebounding. Boston won that category 41-34 as a half-dozen Celtics grabbed at least five rebounds, a team effort that will be crucial against the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant was prolific in Game 4 for good and bad. He scored 33 on 22 shots -- including an ominous third-quarter stretch of eight points on three difficult attempts -- but his assist-turnover ratio of 2-7 was a killer as the Celtics dug out his dribbles and clamped off his attempts to share the ball with teammates. "They don't want me to beat them, so they put three guys there,'' he said of the defensive respect he has received from the Celtics. "Nothing we haven't seen before, it's just when you win those games, like Game 3, nobody talks about that because we take advantage of it. And if you lose the game, everybody talks about that.''
Whether or not the Celtics are faced with Bynum in the paint, they must respond to the all-or-nothing nature of Game 5 by attacking the basket through Rondo, Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Can they continue to depend on their bench to see them through the fourth quarter, which is what happened in Game 4? Probably not.