In Defense of Phil Jackson

I can’t believe how quickly the blogging world has turned on Phil Jackson. And while were at it, I do not get the criticisms I’ve been reading of Sasha Vujacic or Pau Gasol. Phil is NOT to blame, unless you think that players not taking their coach seriously is the coach’s fault.

About the only explanation I can find for people knocking Jackson, Gasol and Vujacic, is that these fans are JUST LIKE the Lakers’ players … they are too focused on offense, and do not take defense seriously enough.

“Defense wins championships” is not just a cliche’, it is the truth, and Lakers players and fans alike seem to think the Lakers can win a title allowing the Celtics to score 98, 108 and 97 points per game, even when the Celtics have allowed their opponents to score only 90.3 points per game all season long … and the Celtics were no where NEAR as motivated as they are now to defend.

The math doesn’t add up!

Pay attention to the post game comments, and you can see the that the Lakers are not on the same page as their coach. Phil Jackson alone seems to understand that the Lakers need to take defense more seriously.

These young Lakers have NOT played good defense all year, and that has put them at odds with Jackson. To be specific, the Lakers had the 19th best defense in the NBA this season, allowing opponents to score 101.4 points per game.

By contrast, the Celtics allowed their opponents to score an average of 90.3 points per game.

Given that pace slows down in the playoffs, it is more than reasonable to assume that, for the Lakers to win ANY game against the Celtics, the Lakers will need to hold the Celtics to 90 points or less.

The ONLY time the Lakers did that these Finals, they won. Shouldn’t THAT be enough evidence to convince them? Hold the Celtics to 90 points or less, you win. Don’t do it, and you lose. Four games have borne that out, how about believing it now?

In the 1st quarter of game 4, the Lakers held the Celtics to 14 points. That defensive effort, combined with the Lakers’ rebounding and ball movement, created easy offense for the Lakers as well, hence the 21 point Finals record.

After the first quarter, the Lakers defense let up. In the 3rd quarter, it was exactly as bad as it had been all season. The Celtics scored 31 that quarter.

Remember the sound bites of Phil Jackson in the locker room and on the floor at half time? Repeatedly he warned his players, “Win the 3rd quarter. Are you listening? Win the 3rd quarter and we’ll be fine.”

Phil Jackson coached in the CBA, where playoff seeding was determined not only by wins, but how many QUARTERS a team won. If Jackson could get the Lakers to think in terms of winning quarters, then he could get a more consistent defensive effort all game long, rather than the big effort at the beginning that vanishes until the 4th quarter when it is painfully obvious it is needed.

After the game, Kevin Garnett commented on how surprised he was that the Lakers were not giving the effort in the 2nd half that they gave in the 1st half.

SUBSTITUTIONS

For all of you baffled by Phil’s substitutions, he was not subbing for offense. He was subbing for defense, to stop the bleeding.

Phil Jackson understands what, apparently, not everyone does: the Lakers are NOT going to outscore the Celtics. The Celtics will not allow that. Therefore, the Lakers are going to have to hold the down Celtics scoring to win.

If I were coach, I’d tell my players that the magical number is 22, that way he might be able to make the Lakers give a more consistent defensive effort. If the Lakers can hold the Celtics to 22 POINTS PER QUARTER, the Lakers will be in a position to win.

A NEW HOPE

As a reminder, the Lakers could have potentially won all 3 of the games they lost. The problem always was, they let the Celtics score too much.

The series is not over, but if the Lakers players don’t wisen up, defend, rebound and move the ball, it will be.

ABOUT PAU AND SASHA

Not only am I not critical of Phil, I don’t get these criticisms of Pau.

Pau is NOT the Lakers starting center, guys! Bynum is! Pau is playing out of position, as is Ronny Turiaf. If healthy, Bynum and Mihm are supposed to be the inside force, and Pau will do his scoring on lobs as he cuts to the rim, not post up play. And Pau has the foot speed to keep up with the Boozers in the league, and the length to really bother them defensively.

As for Sasha letting Allen “walk” by him at crunch time, the worst thing Sasha could have done was foul Allen, that would have been a guaranteed 2 points for the Celtics. Of the 1000’s of people who have played in the NBA over the decades, Ray Allen is the 7th best free throw shooter to ever play in the league. By letting Allen by him, Sasha was presumably sending Allen to help, BIGS that would alter Allen’s shot or cause him to pass the ball. The team defense is to blame here, not Sasha.

In truth, the team defense is to blame for the hole the Lakers are in. Not Phil Jackson, not Kobe’s shot selection, not Radmanovic’s lack of hard fouls, not Sasha’s letting Ray Allen go by.

Seriously guys, if you are looking critically at the Lakers offense, you are looking at the wrong side of the floor.

The Celtics have the best defense in basketball. That best defense, was NEVER more motivated than it was last night. Naturally, the Lakers are not going to perform as well as expected against that, even the great Kobe Bryant. To expect otherwise is to ignore reality.

If the Lakers score better Sunday, cool. But if it happens, it will be because the Laker defense has allowed them to run out for easy scores. It won’t be because they’ve magically solved the Celtics defense and can now score as everyone expects them to do.

The Lakers need to defend to win.

That’s easy to overlook because it is so cliche’ to keep saying, “Defense wins championships,” but the saying has endured for a reason. And frankly, the Lakers (and probably their fans) don’t take defense seriously yet.

And so it was, that the Lakers #24, in his 24th Finals game of his career, was part of a 24 point meltdown that is now in the record books.

All that will be but a footnote though, if the next Lakers record is to become the 1st team to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

That record is the Lakers’ for the taking, if they will rebound, move the ball, and play defense as if this season depended on it. Because it does.

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