Kobe Bryant's injury a tough lesson
NEW ORLEANS -- Phil Jackson doesn't usually feel the need to remind his team of the obvious. Most of the Los Angeles Lakers have been to the last three NBA Finals and have won back-to-back championships. As evidenced by his philosophy of not taking timeouts when his team is struggling, Jackson often lets his players figure things out for themselves.
There is one obvious point, however, that Jackson feels the need to stress to his team when it is on the verge of closing out a series, a point he reminded his players of before they lost to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday.
"We just reminded the guys that the number of little things that happen in playoff games," Jackson said. "They're much more physical, much more activity in the games."
Jackson has won 11 championships as a head coach, but to this day he laments the one that got away, in 2004, when the Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games. He often goes back to Games 5 and 6 of the 2004 Western Conference finals when Derek Fisher and Karl Malone both injured their knees, which limited each of them in the Finals.
"Fish hurting his knee in the sixth game of the Minnesota series when we probably could have closed that one early; Karl Malone hurt his knee in that series in a game we probably could have eliminated if we paid attention to business," Jackson said Sunday night, the events of seven years ago still fresh in his mind.
"There are a couple of other issues that go along with that. We talked about Andrew [Bynum] getting hurt in the playoffs. It's always an issue about contact and the type of play that goes on and that injuries are a part of it. Kobe got injured in the Finals of the Indiana-Lakers series in 2000 in the second game. We don't want that to happen, and that's one of the keys about going through quickly."
Not too long after Jackson preached the importance of winning Game 4 and closing out the series Tuesday night in Los Angeles, he watched as Kobe Bryant rolled his left ankle and injured his foot late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.
After the game, Bryant was unable to walk to the postgame interview room or even to his locker, talking to reporters as he sat on the trainer's table. When he was done talking, he left the arena on crutches, unable to put a shoe or pressure on his injured foot.
"It's sore," Bryant said. "It just rolled over. It's been weeks since I hurt it last and when it happens, when you roll your ankle once, it's easy to go and it just went."
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The Lakers' chances of winning a third straight title go as Bryant's ankle goes, and as Bynum's knee goes, and as any other limb or ligament one of their key players might injure over the course of the playoffs goes.
Now a series in which the Lakers were heavy favorites has been extended to at least six games. The rest and recovery time this veteran team had been hoping for is now a distant memory as they will once again board a plane to New Orleans on Wednesday.
"Well, it's a series now, 2-2, best of three," Jackson said after the game. "We punked out there on the court tonight."
And don't look for it to get any easier, any less physical, in the next three games. It was actually the Hornets' game plan to "punk" the Lakers and be physical with them from the opening tip of the game. It was the main thing Hornets coach Monty Williams stressed to his team before the game and the first thing he brought up after the game.
"We talk about it all the time, it's OK to hard foul as long as you're not trying to hurt someone on purpose," Williams said before the game. "I think it's OK and I think you have to. That's how I grew up with the old heads I played with. They believe in the no layup rule and we've given up enough of that. Sometimes you just have to go out there and start something and get yourself going a little bit. You have to make it a physical game."
No player took Williams' advice more to heart than Chris Paul, the team's wounded leader. Paul, who posted 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in Game 4, played with a taped-up left thumb and wrist he hurt in Game 3, a bandage next to his right eye from a collision with Ron Artest, and sore hips from all the contact he takes running the pick-and-roll. During the course of the game, Paul nearly got into it with Bryant and half the Lakers team. He wasn't the only one, as Willie Green got in Matt Barnes' face and Carl Landry mixed it up with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
The Hornets' aggressive nature may have stemmed from their team meeting on Saturday when Williams showed his team "The Battle at Kruger," a viral online video showing a herd of cape buffalo getting together to beat up a pride of lions attacking a calf at Kruger National Park in Zimbabwe.
"Don't give up," Williams said of the message behind the video. "The calf lived. It was getting attacked for about three minutes and it lived. They just stayed together."
The Lakers looked in control at the start of the game, grabbing a nine-point lead in the first half before New Orleans stormed back just before halftime to take the lead and never relinquished it. It's a scene that has become all too familiar for L.A. this year.
"[Game 4] is a testament to the way we've been playing all season, allowing teams to come back" said Bynum, who suffered a bone bruise to his right knee in Game 3. "Everything that you do takes practice, and we never really practice extending leads; we allow teams to hang around and tonight it bit us."
Now the Lakers must play two, maybe three games, in order to advance in the playoffs, which is no longer as certain as it seemed a few days ago.
"We don't fear them," Landry said. "We're not going to be some pushovers for them. We're going to keep punching them. You can tell in the second quarter they were getting frustrated with one another, and we knew if we kept punching they would break, and they did."
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.