I know that there are plenty of player haters out there when it comes to one Phil Jackson. Some might consider him arrogant and pompous. Some feel that he only won because he always had the most talent. And there were some that took great joy in watching his Los Angeles Lakers get swept by the Dallas Mavericks this weekend. No matter what your opinion of Jackson is, one thing is for sure: He deserved better than what he got on Sunday.
I predicted a Boston Celtics-Oklahoma City Thunder NBA Finals so the fact that the Lakers were eliminated does not shock me. I just thought that they would get bounced in the Western Conference Finals, as Kevin Durant would be the one that ended Jackson’s and Kobe Bryant’s misery. But after watching the Lakers bow down and surrender at hands of the Dallas Mavericks, my heart went out to Jackson. That Game 4, 122-86, beat down was one of the most humiliating elimination games in the history of sports. And it was not just because of the score.
It was just the collective effort that the team put forth that left many fans, members of the media and even folks associated with the Lakers organization scratching their heads. It seemed as if the whole team was in a fog from the start of the playoffs. The poor play was one thing but the way they conducted themselves on the court was a whole different manner.
The New Orleans Hornets put the Fear of God in them in the opening round. Then they let a 16-point lead evaporate in Game 1 of their second round battle with the Mavs, eventually losing that contest 96-94. That was very unLaker-like and more than anything it showed the chink in the armor. The Lakers also had a chance to win Game 3 but they blew a late-game lead in that one as well. As the series went along, it became apparent that the Lakers could not keep up with the Mavs perimeter scorers, especially Dirk Nowitzki. He shot over Artest and Bryant. Lamar Odom provided little help and then there was Pau Gasol, who played like a shell of himself for the last month. Here was a guy that some were calling the best skilled big man in the League a few months ago, looking like he just started playing the game.
What led to Gasol’s drastic production drop? Some believe that he lost his desire. Then “he” alluded to the fact that his break up with his fiancee might have affected his play. REALLY? Wow, perhaps a visit to Dr Phil should have been in order to help him come to terms with his domestic issues.
Speaking of issues, those who follow basketball closely know that there was something collectively wrong with these Lakers and that was before Andrew Bynum’s trust issues proclamation after Game 3. Yeah Bryant grew increasingly frustrated with Gasol’s play. Bryant also started chucking 30’ fade-away jumpers instead of pounding it inside to Bynum, who was experiencing success against the Mavs front court. Odom played like he was more interested in the script of his TV Reality Series with his wife than this series. Artest did not even trust himself as he botched a wide open layup in Game 4.
The Lakers’ effort or lack there of was one thing, but them coming unglued is something else. Compared to the hard fouls that the Pistons Bad Boys and Pat Riley Knicks administered in the 80’s and 90’s, the blows that Artest, Odom and Bynum delivered were love taps. There just wasn’t any rationale for them other than being frustrated. They were not message fouls. They were committed when the games were all but decided when a message was mute and the damage was done. All three Lakers were kicked out of the respective games as they should have been. But is this how a two-time defending champion squad should act in the face adversity? I don’t think so and I will bet good money that Jackson does not either.
As I watched this series unfold, I found myself wondering who are these guys? I’m sure Phil Jackson was thinking the same thing. No wonder he announced after being eliminated that he was glad that this series was over. He could not hide his frustration. For the first time in recent memory, he went after a player during a timeout as he distinctively poked, some say punched, Gasol in the chest after one of his many lackluster efforts during these playoffs.
Phil Jackson won 11 championships as a coach and 2 as a player. He won representing three of the most prominent organizations the League has known in the Knicks, Bulls and Lakers. He will go down as one of the greatest coaches in all of sports. I loved him as the Knicks’ defensive stopper and loathed but respected him as the Bulls and Lakers commander-in chief. I’m just glad that most level-headed sports fans will remember him for his total body of work and not what we witnessed during the last week.