Before tonight's home victory over the scuffling Boston Celtics, the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers had lost four games in a row and were playing their worst basketball of the entire season. With the Miami Heat, holding the No. 2 seed in the East, creeping ever so closely to Indiana's lead in the conference, Indiana knew it needed to beat Boston tonight, and could not afford another loss.
Well, with a comfortable 94-83 score, Indiana was able to do just that, helped greatly by the debut of a new player who has fallen from NBA grace about as quickly as possible.
Andrew Bynum, who was drafted with the 10th overall pick by the Lakers in the 2005 Draft, has always faced injury problems, but was a consistent center for Los Angeles until he was traded in 2012 to the 76ers. Bynum never played a game for Philly in the 2012-13 season due to a knee injury, and has bounced around to Cleveland, Chicago (no games, traded to and promptly released), and now to Indiana, for whom he scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 16 minutes of play tonight.
Signing Bynum after his release by the Bulls represented a huge low-risk, high-reward move for a Pacers team that needs as much an edge over the Heat in order to finally win the Eastern Conference and make the NBA Finals.
Seven-footers do not grow on trees in the NBA, and with his stellar — OK solid, stellar is a bit hyperbolic — performance in his first game with Indiana, Bynum showed just how valuable he can be to a team that is too prone to extending scoring droughts, right now, to win the East.
Simply, his presence on the floor clogs up the middle of the floor, opening up Indiana wing-scorers, like Paul George and Lance Stephenson, for easier shots.
Frank Vogel did not run the New Jersey native ragged though, as tonight's game was his first in the NBA in around three months. Bynum still needs to get his conditioning back to the point where it needs to be for him to perform anywhere near the level he was at in Los Angeles. But with 18 games left in the 2014 season, there is enough time for him to get into good enough shape for the playoffs, when the Pacers will need him the most.
Regardless of everything else though, a near double-double in just 16 minutes is a great sign for Bynum and Indy, and should give the team a lot more confidence with his going forward.