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Bill Plaschke

Master of Disaster

At least some of the blame for Game 4 collapse has to be put on Jackson. The question is, how much?

June 14, 2008|Bill Plaschke

Intrigued by the idea, shocked at its audacity, folks around town are whispering it.

Adjusting their Tivos, rubbing their eyes, NBA fans around the country are wondering it.

So, what the Zen, we might as well say it.

Was it Phil Jackson's fault?

Does the blame for the greatest collapse in recorded NBA Finals history lie with the greatest coach?

Could this memorable, macabre wounding of Lakers tradition have been prevented by the man paid $10 million a year to carry the Band-Aids?

It was Boston Celtics 97, Lakers 91 . . . and how much Phil Jackson?

The answer is, enough.

Enough that it's worth questioning.

Enough that it's worth wondering how a man with nine championship rings can allow his team to blow a 24-point lead at a championship moment in a championship series.

A day later, a drained-looking Jackson said everyone on the team felt blame for the collapse.

"Everybody . . . from Rudy Garciduenas, who's our equipment manager and probably thought he put the wrong Tide in the uniforms," Jackson said.

But Jackson admitted that he may have even lost a little more sleep over it.

"Everybody that feels like they did something they could have done to help the team and weren't able to help the team has to consider that," Jackson said. "That's what you mull as a coach over in your mind at 1 or 5 in the morning."

It has been written here that Jackson is the greatest NBA coach by the length of several cigars, and that opinion hasn't changed.

But Thursday night, and for much of these NBA Finals, he hasn't even been the greatest coach in the gym.

Two games ago, the aggressive Doc Rivers kept his team from blowing a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter.

On Thursday night, the avuncular Jackson couldn't inspire his team to do the same.

For a week, Doc Rivers has kept his team flowing despite injuries to starters Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo.

On Thursday night, Jackson struggled to find the right mix even with everyone sound.

Remember Derek Fisher? The veteran leader and author of one of the greatest playoff-saving shots in Lakers history was on the bench for all but the final 2:10 in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar were combining to go zilch for five.

Jackson said he was going for defense, but maybe they need a scheme that can keep Fisher in the game when he's needed most.

Boston's turnaround was fueled by a defensive coaching specialist named Tom Thibodeau, and maybe it's time for Jackson to either acquire or designate similar help.

Then there was Lamar Odom, who carried the Lakers to their big lead, then sat for the last 2:58 of the third quarter when the Celtics made their game-changing run.

When Odom left, the Lakers were ahead by 11. When he returned, they were ahead by two and he had lost his steam.

On Thursday, just as it seems to be in every big recent Jackson defeat, it is about momentum.

His teams can create it, but sometimes they have trouble stopping it.

His teams can brilliantly chase, but sometimes fitfully lead.

Since his last championship in 2002, he has been on the wrong end of playoff history three times, and always it has been about momentum.

In 2004, playing the Detroit Pistons, his Lakers were the first visitors to be swept by the home team in the middle three games of an NBA Finals.

In 2006, playing the Phoenix Suns, his Lakers were only the eighth in history to lose a three-games-to-one lead in the playoffs.

And now, playing the Celtics, his Lakers have suffered the biggest single-game Finals collapse in recorded NBA history.

And he left the court with one timeout remaining.

Yeah, one timeout. A couple of more minutes with your team. Another chance to remind everyone to pass the dang ball.

As much as Jackson hates to stop the action, wouldn't you think that he could have used that one timeout?

He also left the court with his team having been called for just one fewer foul than the Celtics, even though the game's first three fouls were called on Boston.

That trend was quickly stopped by Rivers, who jumped up with 9:30 in the first quarter and started screaming as if it were crunch time. He was assessed an odd early technical foul, and it worked.

Jackson will never do that, nor should he.

Jackson will not change the laid-back, esoteric style that has put him in the Hall of Fame, nor should he.

But even legends have bad days.

And even legends can learn.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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