Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/2/12
For once, Kobe Bryant smiled. For once, Andrew Bynum frowned. The Lakers' two best players appeared to trade roles. Bryant usually remains stoic and serious during the NBA playoffs. Bynum often appears carefree. Yet, the circumstances surrounding their differing body language actually revealed how they are resembling each other. The Lakers' 104-100 Game 2 victory Tuesday over the Denver Nuggets featured Bynum scoring a playoff career-high 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting, yet he sat there at his locker unhappy. He hardly sounded thrilled about collecting nine rebounds and two blocks after tying an NBA playoff record in Game 1 with 10 blocked shots along with his 13 rebounds. "I left a lot there," Bynum said. "I need to do better. I want to be perfect." Bryant sat in the interview room moments later nodding his head and smiling when a reporter relayed to him about Bynum's self-critical comments. He clearly understood his teammate's sentiments. "He expects greatness out of himself, Bryant said. "He believes that he can have monster games on a consistent basis like he did the last game, so its a great thing to hear." It's surreal to see how much their dynamic has evolved. It was only five years ago, after all, when Bryant demanded the Lakers' front office trade Bynum for Jason Kidd. Similar to what many Lakers felt, Bryant hardly had the patience to see Bynum develop when he wanted to win at that present moment. I had longly touted the Lakers' need to keep Bynum because of his distinguishable size, but the praise came with some reservations. The Lakers should still remain open in trading him for Dwight Howard. They shouldn't keep Bynum as their franchise player because his extensive injury history remains unpredictable. Bynum has proved Bryant wrong for his impatience. He's also evaporated skepticism, including from yours truly, that he could surpass Howard as the NBA's best center and proved he's taken the necessary steps to remain healthy. But it wasn't until NBA All-Star weekend this year when Bryant recalled the "bond cemented itself." "We were always around each other and we really didnt care what the other guys were doing," Bryant said. "It was really about us and being in constant communication, 'What are you doing, lets go out, lets hang out, lets grab some dinner.' From that point on, we've always had this chemistry." Bryant also built a better understanding of what makes Bynum tick. That's why it shouldn't be surprising Bryant expressed patience toward Bynum when the center spoke of his desire to shoot three-pointers and then was ejected from a game. He hardly excused the immature behavior, but Bryant gave Bynum room to figure out his own development while testing the franchise's boundaries. After the Game 2 victory, Bynum demanded more of himself after the Nuggets posted 30 fast-break points and 26 second-chance points. "I left a lot on the court today," Bynum said. "I worked way too hard before the game. I could've had a perfect game." Instead, Bynum simply gave Denver fits in other ways. He posted deep into the lane and scored off a series of hooks and fall-away jumpers. Pau Gasol's five assists mostly reflected he and Bynum often playing off each other, going high-to-low in the post, and ending on lobs. Despite the Nuggets' relentless double teams, Bynum didn't have a single turnover and kicked passes out to Bryant. He dropped a team-leading 38 points on 15-of-29 points partly because Bynum commanded more defensive attention. Yet, on the game's most crucial possession, Bryant couldn't have expressed his feelings toward Bynum ever more clearly. After chasing down Denver forward Al Harrington for a steal, Bryant drove down the court and easily could've finished on his own. Instead, Bryant connected with Bynum for a two-handed slam that gave the Lakers a 97-91 lead with 2:15 remaining, causing Denver to call timeout and securing the win. "You have to reward your big men," Bryant said. As for Bryant's reward, that involves Bynum's own critical self-assessment. For once, Bryant has a teammate who demands as much out of himself. --Mark Medina
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