Phil Jackson is one of the all-time – if not the all-time – greatest coaches in NBA history. He has three sets of championships and a Coach of the Year award to his name. The Zen Master leads the Association in career playoff victories and playoff winning percentage and, in 2007, PJ was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Lakers and Rockets, however, Jackson’s aforementioned credentials must have been left at the Staples Center door.
Jackson has never really been your typical hands-on coach, at least during the game. Unlike many of his kind, you’ll rarely find him standing – let alone screaming – on the sideline; he is notorious for letting his team play through its struggles instead of bailing out his players with a timeout; and, perhaps most of all, Jackson isn’t one to give his youngsters quality minutes, especially in the postseason.
Monday night’s 100-92 defeat showed why the latter wasn't such a brilliant philosophy, at least for Game 1.
For starters, Houston’s Aaron Brooks ate Derek Fisher for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You would have thought Brooks was the 13-year vet and Fisher the scared sophomore with the way Brooks finished his plate – or plates. Brooks seemingly penetrated at will, used screens as if they were buildings and spilt double-teams like it was an exhibition.
You can understand why Jackson elected to go with Fisher with five minutes remaining in regulation and the Lakers trying to catch the Rockets: Derek has been there before; he was on the three-peat Lakers team at the beginning of the decade; and “Point-Four” is his middle name. But, when you can’t keep up with your man (let alone keep him out of the lane – eight of Brooks’ 19 points came in the paint, two of which came on a crucial fourth-quarter possession in which the shot clock was sub-five and Brooks was still able to slither inside from behind the arc for an uncontested layup), you shouldn’t be out there, especially since the Lakers were playing catch-up for most of that final quarter.
Conversely, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, two Lakers guards who are quicker and younger – and, most importantly, have far less mileage than Fisher – were doing a significantly better job of keeping Brooks in front of them and thus out of the key. Yet, Brown and Farmar combined for just 16 minutes of playing time, and Fisher was the one who finished the game on the floor.
Then there was Yao Ming who lit up the Lakers for 28 points. Q: Who was guarding Yao throughout most, if not all, of the fourth quarter? A: Pau “I’m Softer Than a Tempur-Pedic Mattress” Gasol.
Don’t get me wrong: Pau is a phenomenal player; he made this year’s all-star team for a reason; and, without the Spaniard, the Lakers aren’t the one seed in the West. But Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak didn’t orchestrate one of the league’s most lop-sided trades in history for Gasol’s defense. My eight-year-old cousin who doesn’t even live in Los Angeles and has probably never even watched a Lakers game could have told you that.
So where was the Andrew Bynum that Jackson said would likely play “24 to 28 minutes” during Game 1 on a Los Angeles radio talk show last week? He was on the bench all but 16 minutes of the game – and no, he was not in foul trouble.
Bynum is stronger and quicker than Gasol; he has better defensive instincts; and his ability to contest shots well exceeds that of Gasol, primarily because Bynum’s wingspan is that much wider. When you’re going against a seven-foot, six-inch freak, Bynum has to be your main man.
Simply stated: Jackson displayed one of the worst coaching performances I have seen from him in all of his nine seasons in Los Angeles. Yet, at the end of the night, the Lakers found themselves in a position to emerge victorious late in the game.
I guess I can live with that.
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Written by Josh Hoffman