Kobe vs. Bynum: Who Is More Important in L.A. Lakers Title Quest?

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant may be the best and most talented player on his team's roster, but does that mean he is also the most pivotal figure in the Lakers' quest for the 2012 NBA championship?

The Lakers' Game 3 demolition at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs may suggest otherwise.

Bryant led the Lakers in scoring with 22 points on 7-of-23 shooting from the field, which was a far cry from his 31- and 38-point performances in the first two games of the series. But the Lakers' fate in Game 3 was likely sealed by center Andrew Bynum's inexplicable first-half performance.

Bynum posted the Lakers' first postseason triple-double in more than 20 years in the team's Game 1 win over the Nuggets, and he followed that performance with a 27-point, nine-rebound gem in Game 2.

After two quarters of Game 3, Bynum had exactly three rebounds and zero points and the Lakers entered the locker room trailing by 15 points after being down by as many as 24.

Bynum's first-half performance was flat and uninspired, but even more curious was his performance and the way the Lakers responded in the second half.

Bynum returned in the third quarter with intensity and focus, and his strong play in the paint completely changed the atmosphere of the game. The Lakers managed to whittle the Nuggets' lead to four points, but their cold fourth-quarter shooting ultimately doomed them.

The point that the Lakers even had a fighting chance in this game after being clearly out-played by the Nuggets might be a testament to the team's will, and the value of their most important player.

Don't get me wrong. I still believe Bryant can lead the Lakers to their 17th NBA championship, but he can't do it unless Bynum is the most dominant player on the court.

Bryant may arguably be the most skilled player in the postseason, but there is no other ...

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