L.A.'s Zen Master made all the right moves
Updated: Monday May 28, 2001 8:08 AM
By Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated
LOS ANGELES -- Moments after the final horn had sounded on the Lakers' victory over the Spurs in Game 4 on Sunday, the image of Ann Robinson, host of the TV game show Weakest Link, appeared on the giant overhead screen at Staples Center.
"San Antonio Spurs. You are weakest link," the snooty TV witch said. "Goodbye!"
Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, still mingling on the floor with his players, didn't seem to notice the public mocking of his vanquished opponent. If he had, he probably wouldn't have derived any joy out of it anyway.
Jackson might like to tweak his opponents with verbal barbs, but he seldom rubs it in afterward.
He and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich shook hands warmly as they passed after Game 4, and Jackson publicly credited San Antonio. "They are a very good basketball team," Jackson said. "To win a series like this is a remarkable feat."
The Lakers, thanks in large part to Jackson, made it look easy. With Shaquille O'Neal powering his way inside and Kobe Bryant wreaking havoc at both ends, L.A. took the Twin Towers out of their game. The Lakers outscored the Spurs in 11 of 16 quarters, and their average margin of victory (22.3 points) set an NBA record for a conference final series.
"They were fantastic," Spurs center David Robinson said. "They had an answer for everything."
While Shaq, Kobe and Derek Fisher (career-high 28 points in Game 4) deserve most of the credit for L.A.'s success, Jackson's role can't be overlooked. The Zen Master did more than get into the Spurs' heads with those pointed comments about asterisks and illegal zone defenses. He also made several astute coaching decisions:
"It disrupted them," Derek Fisher said. "It made it hard for those guys to flow into their offense, and it destroyed their timing."
In Game 1, Duncan mostly stayed with his man on the screen and roll, and Bryant went to the basket at will en route to scoring 45 points. In Games 2, 3 and 4, Duncan helped more on Kobe, but Fisher, Rick Fox and Brian Shaw made the Spurs pay by hitting outside shots.
"We felt like the only real scoring threat they had one-on-one was Tim Duncan," Shaw said. "With us not having to double team a lot, we were able to stay home ... and get a hand in the face of their shooters."
Despite a career playoff record of 137-49, best in NBA history, Jackson continues to be dogged by critics who say he's been more lucky than good. Without Shaq and Kobe (or Michael Jordan before that), they say, the Zen Master wouldn't have any NBA rings. Let's see him do this with the Grizzlies, they say.
As Sunday's Game 4 showed yet again, Jackson knows how to put his talent to use. Previous L.A. head coaches Del Harris and Kurt Rambis weren't able to win a title with Shaq and Kobe on the roster. Those Lakers were swept out of the '99 playoffs by the very same Spurs.
When it comes to Jackson, there should be no asterisks on his resume.