The advent of zones only makes it harder for offenses. Several teams will go into a zone just to thwart the plays drawn up during timeouts to exploit a man-to-man matchup. Two of the coaches who use zones often are the Dallas Mavericks' Don Nelson and the Minnesota Timberwolves' Flip Saunders. In a 95-86 April 1 victory over New Orleans, the Mavs played zone the entire second half. "I can't do that in the playoffs, because teams will find a way to adjust when they see it too much," says Nelson. "But it's a real weapon these days, if nothing else just to keep teams off-balance for a possession or two here or there."
Tweak, don't overhaul. "The one thing I've found about the playoffs is that you can't make radical changes," says Riley. "You don't have enough time to say, 'O.K., we showed this for 82 games, and now we're going to do this! " Jackson believes he overreacted to Riley's defensive pressure and radically altered his triangle during the 1994 Eastern semis, resulting in a seven-game loss to the Knicks. In his younger coaching days Brown would sometimes panic and revamp his offense after a playoff defeat, but now, at 62, he studies film and emerges with a couple of small changes that make a difference. In the 2001 Finals, for example, he was convinced that the only way he could steal a game was to pressure the Lakers' guards, even though the book on them said that wouldn't work. Using that tactic, Philly won Game 1 before L.A.'s superior talent took over.
In parrying the moves of opposing coaches, Jackson once again benefits from the flexibility of his triangle, which can be initiated by either of its guards. "On the offensive end, you have to break down pressure," he says. "That's why I believe that you have to have a two-guard offense to win in the playoffs. Because you can pressure point guards, you can trap them and you can destroy their timing. Even if you have the best guy at that position, I can throw two bodies at him when he's bringing the ball up the court and get it out of his hands." That much was clear in L.A.'s Finals sweep last year. It's lots of fun to watch New Jersey's multitalented Jason Kidd, but when the Lakers' D strangled him, the Nets couldn't score.
Find some specialists. Coaches often shrink their rotations during the postseason; Jackson usually doesn't. "One of the things he does—and he did it when he was here, too—is pave the way to use 10 guys during the playoffs," says Bulls coach Bill Cartwright, who played on Jackson's first three championship teams in Chicago. "He plays guys in pressure situations during the regular season, so it becomes normal to put them in those situations in the playoffs."
Jackson needs neither big-time minutes nor myriad contributions from these lesser lights. Tyronn Lue had his coming-out party in the '01 Finals when Jackson turned him loose on Iverson, and the undersized guard did a good job of disrupting Philadelphia's offense. This year's Lue might well be Jannero Pargo, a 6'1" midseason back-court pickup. Pargo's very good at getting over the top of screens, avoiding a switch, which enables O'Neal to stay planted near the basket. One of the keys for the Kings might be how quickly Adelman shuffles his deck of 10 bona fide players to find a specialist. Might it be Keon Clark or Scot Pollard as a hack-a- Shaq defender? Or Jimmy Jackson as a Kobe curtailer? And you can bet that Popovich will find a special role for his versatile ace in the hole, Manu Ginobli.
Playin' those mind games. "Your players are going to be ready," Adelman says. "The biggest challenge is to get them to play with emotion but under control. It's about the body and the brain." A coach also has to find a way to drive his players for those two enervating playoff months while making sure he's not losing them with the length of his film sessions or the sound of his voice. "In the playoffs I'm more apt to pat a guy on the back than I am to kick him in the ass," says Nelson, "because you want everyone's confidence as high as possible."
Jackson says he pampers players a lot more during the postseason. Of course, he's had tenacious competitors such as Michael Jordan, Bryant and O'Neal to put the hammer down on the team for him. But over the years he has also been a master motivator, employing little gimmicks such as splicing cuts from a current movie (Pulp Fiction and The Rookie have been a couple of choices) into the game film.
Jackson has, in a sense, set up his motivational framework for the playoffs by not over-motivating during the season. His team underachieved far too much to make him a candidate for Coach of the Year. But it's playoff time now, and every team that wants to win a championship knows it must beat not only Kobe and Shaq but also the soul-patched wizard pushing the buttons from the bench.
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