Commentary

If it's Game 2, it's time for Jackson to work his magic

Originally Published: June 8, 2008
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Kobe BryantNathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant won't be the only one looking to bounce back from a disappointing Game 1.

BOSTON -- Game 2 is when coaches step to the forefront of a series, when they process the data they've gathered from the opener and put their countermoves on display. In this case, Game 2 is about Phil Jackson.

There hasn't been much of a call for the Celtics to change their strategy. Maybe they didn't control Game 1 the entire time, but they got what they wanted in the end. They forced Kobe Bryant to finish with more shots attempted than points scored, prevented any of the Lakers' secondary players from bursting out, held the Lakers below 90 points and got 65 points from the new big three.

It's the Lakers who must find better shots for Bryant, get Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom back to the level at which they operated earlier in the playoffs, and crack the code of the Celtics' defense.

And they will. Why? Because Phil Jackson said so, that's why.

Phil on Bryant: "He's been an unstoppable force in this game. He usually doesn't have two games in a row that are bad. He comes back and plays better, so we anticipate that's going to be a pattern."

Phil on getting Gasol and Odom involved: "We will, there's no doubt about that."

Phil on Kevin Garnett's roaming defense: "We just have to figure out a way how to use that to our advantage, and we will."

There, that was easy. See you in L.A. for Game 3.

If Jackson comes off as confident, it's because the numbers back him up. He's 9-1 in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Not only is he confident, he's also always in control.

On Thursday, "SportsCenter" showed a list of meltdowns by a manager or coach, prompted by Seattle Mariners manager John McLaren's obscenity-laced outburst Wednesday night. All the good ones were there: Denny Green's "We let 'em off the hook!" rant, Mike Gundy's "I'm a man! I'm 40!" and Hal McRae's phone toss.

Phil Jackson will never make that list. Won't happen. We've waited this long, and chances are we'll go crazy and throw something at the TV in a desperate attempt to make him show some emotion before he actually does.

He won't break down. He refuses to give in to the pressure or the expectations. Even now, as he is older and his team is younger -- a combination that almost screams for him to start screaming -- he sits as stoically as ever on the sideline.

"It seems to me he's at real peace with himself," said Frank Hamblen, his longtime assistant in Chicago and now L.A. "He's in a good place right now for him."

Jackson's kids are all grown up and are bearing his grandchildren. He lives near the ocean in Playa del Rey, Calif., and spends his summers in a newly built house on a lake in Montana. And his team is back in the NBA Finals.

The Finals are familiar territory to him, like the Oval Office to a president in his second term. This is his 11th trip here as a head coach. The novelty this time is he is coming off a loss in his most recent trip to the Finals. The Lakers' five-game defeat at the hands of Detroit in 2004 "gave me a sense that we don't want to go through that same process again," Jackson said. "That's painful."

More than ever, he wants to impress upon his team that "Getting here is half the journey. The other half is winning this series."

So even if there's greater urgency, with the chance to break his tie with Red Auerbach and win a record 10th championship against Auerbach's beloved Celtics, you'll never see Jackson reach the point of desperation.

He even kept Bryant off the court for three minutes in the fourth quarter of a close playoff game on the road in Game 1.

"His shot just wasn't falling for him," Jackson explained. So, the coach gave him a rest.

Those are the times that drive his detractors -- and even fans of his team -- crazy. Why won't he put Kobe back in? Why won't he call timeout when the opponent rolls off 10 straight points?

For Jackson, it's always been about letting the players find their own paths. The secret is that when he's less hands-on, they become more like him.

"Poise is something that he teaches, and it rubs off on us on the court," Odom said. "We're down 16, 18, PJ don't scream or yell. He takes his time."

That's the method that enabled this team to grow so fast this spring, even though it isn't laden with the degree of playoff experience Jackson has enjoyed in the past. Closing out the Jazz on the road in hostile Utah, taking out the defending-champion Spurs in five games -- that's big-boy stuff.

Now the Lakers have to take another step in the maturation process if they're to win this series. After losing Game 1, they trail in a series for the first time in the playoffs. Jackson had lost the Finals opener four times before Thursday; three times he came back to prevail.

Rest assured, the changes Jackson makes for Game 2 will be tactical, not philosophical.

The difference between Jackson and first-time Finals coach Doc Rivers has been an unmistakable check in the Lakers' favor in the matchup boxes. (Rivers himself called it night and day.)

It was evident in Game 1 that one of the key areas is trust in oneself. Jackson trusts himself more than Rivers does. Rivers had shortened the rotation in the conference finals against Detroit, but against the Lakers, he was back to using Sam Cassell (worked well in the first half, but in the fourth quarter … not so much). Before the game, Rivers said one of his biggest concerns was playing Garnett too much. Then Garnett exceeded his playoff average of 38 minutes per game by more than 2½ minutes in Game 1.

Jackson will keep coaching his way. And he'll keep finding ways to needle the other team.

He actually has toned it down in these playoffs. No questioning the level of sophistication of the other team's fans. No snide remarks about the other city. (The only thing he had to say about Boston was, "It's very green.") No baiting the referees through the media. ("It's hard to have that influence with the officiating," he conceded.)

But he couldn't completely shut down that side of his personality. He has led the Lakers' brigade of doubters about the severity of Paul Pierce's knee injury, joking: "I don't know if the angels visited him … but he didn't even limp when he came back out on the floor. I don't know what was going on there. Was Oral Roberts back there in their locker room?"

Before the series, Hamblen warned we might see that old side of Jackson emerge. It's nice to see it hasn't gone away completely.

But there's a reason it had gone dormant. Hamblen used the words "comfort" and "comfortable" a half-dozen times when we talked about Jackson -- an odd description for a man who has two artificial hips, moves like a herky-jerky marionette, sometimes walks with a cane and needs a special, high chair to sit and address the media after games.

Jackson's mind is in a better place than ever. He has figured it out, and if anyone else doesn't realize that he's the greatest coach to sit on the NBA sideline in the past four decades, that's on them. He has dispensed with the notion that all he does is win with ready-made talent. Unlike his teams in Chicago and his first go-round with the Lakers, this group wasn't on the cusp of a championship when he took over.

But as this season went on, the Lakers developed the look of a Phil Jackson team. The look of a winner.

J.A. Adande is an ESPN.com senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.

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