I’m sure of it.
With every substitution, every inbounds play, and every defensive lapse, Phil Jackson is looking all the more junior to Glen “Doc” Rivers. By leaps and bounds.
Forget for a moment that the Celtics have a mental edge over the team that they beat in the 2008 NBA Finals (the Los Angeles Lakers have what I like to call a “losers complex”). Boston has a more polished offensive machine than Jackson’s Kobe Bryant led Triangle due in part to its dependence on Black Mamba. The offense, in my opinion, is poorer because of it.
Running the offense through Bryant, rather than Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum for two straight games, has clearly been the difference for the Lakers. They’ve lost, and will continue to lose, if they keep playing the way they did when Bryant scored 81 points — just standing around and watching No. 24 go to work. No matter how much Bryant scores (38 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Game 5), the rest of the team has to get involved (48 points combined in Game 5).
Beyond Kobe, and Jackson’s dependence on the superstar, the lineup of the Lakers in the stretch is continually disadvantageous to their own cause. And I say this say after watching Lamar Odom get bodied out of the post in five straight games, with the Lakers pulling out two wins despite him. He needs to sit in the crunch, and everyone knows he needs to sit in the crunch, except for Phil. (The proof belies the numbers, which are favorable to Odom’s rebounding. He had eight boards, including three offensive in Game 5. But he’s gobbling up all the long rebounds, not the short ones. And those are the ones that matter the most.) Instead, Jackson has kept with the same rotation and minutes he has used through the season. This just highlights his failure to adjust to the Celtics, who have players that give Odom fits when he’s on the floor.
Right now, this is where I’ll stop and give Doc all the credit he deserves. He makes the adjustments that need to be made in every game. He’s not dogmatic in this sense. When Glen Davis and Nate Robinson caught fire in Game 4, he let them ride it out. When Odom gets in the game for Bynum, he subs in Rasheed Wallace to be a defensive agitator. When he sees a matchup he likes in the game, he immediately goes to an isolation for that player (i.e. Pierce on Luke Walton, Kevin Garnett on Odom, Glen Davis on Odom, etc.). He’s constantly looking for the advantage, constantly scheming the defense with his assistants, and constantly adjusting to what he sees on the court.
Contrast? Most definitely.
Jackson depends on those he trusts, and simply forgets that those he doesn’t — who can help his cause — are sitting at the tail end of his bench. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar are on tight leashes while Josh Powell can’t smell the court. That’s not to say that these are dynamic talents individually, but each of them provides their own mismatch of sorts that benefit the Lakers. Powell is a bigger body than Odom, and can help in the post. Given certain boundaries (no shooting), he could be an asset. The same for Farmar, who can keep up with the speedy Rondo or Ray Allen. When Fisher starts going nutty, Farmar would seem to be the easiest defensive based substitution. And Brown, who often subs for Kobe or Fisher, can be the other finisher the team needs when everyone except Kobe is willing to take a shot. He’s proven to be able to do well in transition. That shouldn’t be ignored.
But it is. His game, and that of every other Lakers other than Kobe is being ignored. Gasol can’t get going because he has no touches. Bynum can’t get going because he can’t stay on the floor in the crunch (I’d chalk it up to the knee if that wasn’t the rotation through the year). And the rest of the team knows the scent of Pine-Sol all too well. That’s Jackson’s fault. And despite having a tremendously talented team, he’s somehow forgotten how his team has gotten to the NBA Finals.
Doc Rivers hasn’t.