On offense, Brown stresses patience and composure. "Slow down, Rip," says Hamilton. "That's what I hear Coach Brown saying in my ear." Brown wants to free up his shooters with screens, but he considers it equally important to reverse the ball to keep the defense moving. Detroit's half-court sets were far superior to the Lakers' triangle on Sunday. "Execution," says Los Angeles backup forward Rick Fox. "That's what you expect from a Larry Brown team. Complete and utter execution." Brown is known for keeping his point guards on a short leash, an approach that has worked well with Chauncey Billups, who had 22 points and only two turnovers in the opener. He will also call timeouts quickly to stop an opponent's rally, and he's recognized as the master of getting a good shot coming out of those breaks, as he did with 3:06 left in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Using pin-down screens, Wallace made a wide-open jumper that gave the Pistons a 79-70 lead and all but sealed the win.
Brown is not a screamer, but one glance at the Pistons' bench and you know who's in charge; look at L.A.'s and you'll see injured forward Horace Grant standing up and shouting far more than Jackson. When things are going badly, Jackson adopts the posture of a man rubbernecking at an accident site, interested but not intimately involved. Jackson prefers to let his players figure things out on their own—"conflict resolution," he calls it, though he concedes that this team has been more adept at creating conflict than resolving it—and he is not an advocate of the quick hook. Malone appeared to be in no danger of actually making a jump shot in Game 1, but Jackson stuck with him for 44 minutes.
So, do we conclude that Jackson was outcoached in Game 1? That notion has been prematurely floated countless times, most recently after Gregg Popovich's Spurs crushed the Lakers in the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals. But just as Brown didn't gain a rep as the game's best teacher by droning on about fundamentals, Jackson didn't win nine championships by being a space cadet.
Consider their common ground: Brown, a native of Brooklyn, says "my alltime favorite team" is the '73 champion New York Knicks, on which Jackson was a valuable and heady spare part. Jackson has had several conversations with Dean Smith about offense, since it was Winter's influence on Tar Heels assistant Bill Guthridge that led Smith to install a read-and-react offense approximating Winter's triangle. And though he doesn't dwell on it, Jackson owes as much to his mentors as Brown does. From Holzman he learned the value of communication and trust. "People don't believe this, but Red never diagrammed a play," says Jackson. "During timeouts he'd say, 'O.K., what do you want to run?' and we'd say, 'Walt [Frazier] has something going with Willis [Reed], so let them run a screen-roll,' and Red would say, 'O.K.' " And when Holzman did need something diagrammed, he would toss chalk to his gangly, bushy-haired forward and say, "Here, Phil, you draw it up." Says Jackson, "If anyone ever had a piece of chalk in his hand in the Knicks' locker room, it was me."
Jackson also soaked up knowledge from Winter, who remains a compulsive sketcher of plays. "Phil wants people to think he's not an X's and O's guy," says Hamblen, "and if you believe that, he's got you in his lair." Look at the Lakers' bench during timeouts: His assistants are solid technicians, but Jackson is still the man holding the chalk. "Sometimes he draws something up, and it's so complicated that we're like first-graders, unable to understand it," says Grant, who was on Jackson's first three title teams in Chicago. "But it all becomes clear eventually. The man is a great X's and O's guy."
In instituting the triangle offense with the Bulls—and, more to the point, sticking with it despite complaints from Michael Jordan—Jackson became the NBA's de facto traditionalist. "As unconventional as he might seem," says Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, "Phil is the guy who brought back team play, who started to play the game the way the league wanted it to be played."
Game 1, however, was played the way Larry Brown wanted it to be played. Lots of games have been played that way over the years. Yes, Jackson has nine more titles, but Brown is trying to become the first man to coach champions in both the NCAA (he won it all at Kansas in '88) and the NBA. He is not only a worthy adversary but also a hungry one, and that could spell trouble for the lanky lord of the rings on the L.A. bench.