Commentary

Jackson impeccable after Game 1 wins

The Lakers have to be feeling pretty good, but the coach isn't about to admit it

Updated: June 4, 2010, 6:18 PM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Start printing up those Lakers championship T-shirts and hats. Get ready for that purple-and-gold parade down Figueroa. As the late, great Lakers announcer Chick Hearn would say, "You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell-O is jiggling."

You can certainly watch the Lakers and Celtics play out the rest of this year's NBA Finals, but like a classic movie you've watched time and again, you should already know the ending by now.

The Lakers not only beat the Celtics 102-89 to take Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they all but assured the franchise would win its 16th championship in the process. This prediction has little to do with the Lakers' 48-30 advantage in points in the paint, or their 16-0 edge in second-chance points, or the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combining for a stat line as impressive as the entire Celtics' starting five.

It has everything to do with coach Phil Jackson, who simply doesn't lose a series when he wins Game 1. He has won Game 1 of a playoff series 47 times in his career, and all 47 times his teams have eventually won the series. Trivialize the stat all you want as you look forward to a six- or seven-game series, but the fact is, if you give a Jackson-coached team a head start, you're done. You might get even at some point, but you're eventually losing the race.

In a sport where perfection is almost impossible to retain, Jackson has managed to keep a doughnut in the loss column for the past two decades in every series in which his teams have won the first game. It's almost as impressive as his 10 championship rings when you consider that no one in any sport is even remotely close to him.

[+] EnlargePhil Jackson
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesPhil Jackson-coached teams have won all 47 series in which they have won Game 1.

The closest coach to Jackson when it comes to success in the win/loss column after taking Game 1 is Stan Van Gundy and Al Cervi, who both hold 8-0 marks. That's right, if the Lakers go on to beat the Celtics, both Van Gundy and Cervi would still be 40 series wins behind Jackson.

If you included Major League Baseball and the NHL in the mix, Jackson still has more than double the series wins after taking Game 1 as the next coach on the list, Scotty Bowman, who has 23.

It's an impressive streak not only for Jackson but also for the tandem of Bryant and Derek Fisher, who have yet to lose a playoff series as teammates when taking Game 1, winning 26 straight dating to 1997. The Lakers' current run of 26 consecutive series wins after winning Game 1 is the longest of any team in any sport, surpassing the Celtics from 1957-73 and Jackson's Chicago Bulls from 1990-98. The Montreal Canadiens' 22 wins from 1968-80 comes in third. The last time the Lakers lost a playoff series when winning Game 1 was 1993, when the eighth-seeded Lakers won the first two games on the road against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns before losing three straight in the best-of-five series.

Jackson, however, wasn't about to pull out any victory cigars or purple-and-gold hats with the Roman numeral "XI" on them after taking Game 1 (remember, Jackson has won 10 NBA titles).

"I wish I felt that way," Jackson said. "I wish I had put it in the bank, so to speak. We've got to play this out, and we know this is a team that's got a multitude of changes, lineups, activities, capabilities. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it's nice to know that's on our side."

After the game, "3 Mo" was written on the Lakers' dry-erase board in the locker room to emphasize the Lakers need only three more wins to capture the NBA championship, and for the past 20 years those wins have been as good as guaranteed after Jackson's teams win Game 1. Even if the series goes the distance, as many predict it will, the Lakers will find a way to finish it the same way they started it.

"He's a great coach and he's won 10 championships. He has a lot of stats that are pretty spectacular," Lakers forward Luke Walton said. "It means nothing in this series, though. Boston doesn't care about the 47-0 stat, but it's nice to get Game 1 to get the early advantage because you start to feel each other out after this. Both teams will make adjustments, the series gets harder and it's harder to, score so it's nice to be the team with the 1-0 advantage before all that happens."

While the number is far from trivial or an aberration at this point, Fisher cautioned there wasn't anything more to the number than the fact Jackson has coached some of the greatest teams in NBA history, and when he takes the first game of a series he should win it.

"We've been on some really great teams, so when we've been able to win Game 1, it's really a big step in the right direction," Fisher said. "When the team is really good to begin with and you take a 1-0 lead, it helps a lot. There's a lot of times where we've had to go on the road and win Game 1 and that really flips a series in your favor. I don't want to read too much into the stat, but we just try to keep the team focused, and when we win Game 1 that certainly helps."

The Lakers obviously can't read too much into the stat right now, but everyone else looking at the Finals from afar can read as much into it as they want, and they should. Is it possible Jackson and the Lakers could lose a series after winning Game 1? Sure. But it hasn't happened to Jackson in 20 years as a head coach and hasn't happened to the Lakers in 17 years.

"It's just Game 1," Jackson said after the game with a smile.

Sure it is. He knows it's more than that and so should we by now.

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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