LOS ANGELES - Andrew Bynum leaned over, his hands on his knees, his chest heaving from his first minutes of game action in nearly a month.
Other than being out of breath, Bynum displayed little rust in teaming with Pau Gasol to dominate the middle in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 87-79 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder in their Western Conference playoff series opener Sunday.
Bynum ignited the Staples Center crowd with a monster one-handed dunk over a defenseless Nenad Krstic in the second quarter that pushed the Lakers’ lead to 17.
“It kind of got me going,” Bynum said. “It hyped the team up. That’s the kind of player I can be — exciting.”
Gasol scored 19 points, Bynum added 13 and Kobe Bryant had 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting after missing four of the final five regular season games to rest his swollen right knee and broken right index finger.
“I just have less margin for error with the finger,” Bryant said. “You just got to make adjustments, change your stroke up a little bit.”
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 24 points on 7-of-24 shooting in his playoff debut — under the 30.1 average for the NBA’s youngest scoring champion. Former UCLA star Russell Westbrook added 23.
“I was frustrated,” said Durant, who tossed up some airballs but shot 9-of-11 from the line. “I was missing shots I normally make. They felt good leaving my hand. If I made four or five more shots, maybe it’s a different game.”
Bynum made a difference for the Lakers.
He returned from sitting out 13 games because of a strained right Achilles’ tendon, teaming with fellow 7-footer Gasol for a combined 25 rebounds. Bynum tied his career playoff high with four blocks.
“I had a couple little twinges, but nothing serious,” Bynum said. “Conditioning in the first quarter was tough. The more I keep playing with this aggressive nature, I’ll get better.”
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Tuesday at Staples Center.
“We could’ve definitely played a lot better, but at this stage you just got to win games,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t really matter how.”
History is on the Lakers’ side. Coach Phil Jackson has a 45-0 mark when his team wins a series opener.
“We eked the game out,” Jackson said. “In the second half, we played not up to what we want to play.”
The Lakers came out blazing against the NBA’s youngest team – the Thunder players average 25 years and 42 days in age.
The Lakers overwhelmed the Thunder early by pounding the ball inside to Bynum and Gasol and shooting 54 percent in the first quarter to build a 27-13 lead.
The Thunder, in the playoffs for the first time since moving from Seattle after the 2007-08 season, shot 26 percent and scored its fewest points in a first quarter all season.
“Our effort was really good,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We just didn’t have anything going (offensively). We were holding the ball and standing around too much.”
Oklahoma City settled down after the first quarter, but never got closer than six points against the defending champions.
“When you have Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom all in at the same time, I mean it’s a lot of reaching, a lot of hands and that’s a lot of length,” Westbrook said. “It’s tough for us, but I think we’re going to continue to play, continue to compete and we’ll have a chance.”