Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Game Is Phil Jackson Playing?

Fairly fascinating story here. You remember the defining moment of Game Two of the NBA Finals, when Magic rookie guard Courtney Lee missed a tough layup off a great inbounds pass at the buzzer? The one that if he had made it, the Magic would have split their games in LA and would now be leading 2-1 in the best of seven, with the chance to finish things without returning to LA?

Well, Lakers coach Phil Jackson thinks his team cheated, in that Lakers' center Pau Gasol might have brushed the bottom of the net as he attempted to block the shot, and should have lost the game. No, seriously.


"It's called basket interference," Jackson said Tuesday. "Even if you hit the net supposedly in the process that's part of it, but that rule is kind of archaic. It isn't called in this day and age as much, but when we were in high school -- that was something a high school ref might call, basket interference."

Jackson couldn't recall a game ending on a goaltending call, but felt this one should have.

He was asked if the correct call was made.

"According to the rules, it was not," he said. "It wasn't made."
As to the actual play, I'm not sure why brushing the bottom of the net in a way that had absolutely no impact on the chance of the shot going in should be a game-ending call. Since no one else noticed it in the two days since the play happened, you can see how it's a reach for a call at best. Considering the way Trevor Ariza manhandled people in that fourth quarter, it's hard to see how a basket interference was going to be called. Finally, and not inconsequentially, the Lakers were at home, and if you don't make the call, the game is decided in overtime, rather than by the refs. If you make that play 100 times at the buzzer, it's called as basket interference... zero times, really.

I think the Magic have been getting the short end of the stick from the zebras so far, but they've admirably refused to play that card. Considering how the coaches have worked the refs in the post-game press conferences this playoff season, I think it's kind of refreshing / amazing to hear Jackson take this tack.

But from the sense of realpolitick that pervades everything the man does, I can't quite get why he's going this way. Doesn't this fall under the purview of giving the refs the impetus for a get-even call? Or six?

I think the point speaks to five possible motivations for Coach Philip.

1) He's out. The man's old, banging the owner's daughter, has all the money he's ever going to want, and about to pass Red Auerbach for the only coaching mark that's still open to him. He also knows that when Bryant's legs go -- and it's not going to be too much longer, really -- this Lakers team isn't going to win. Leave before the downfall, and his mystique is intact; stay, and you get to work with Bryant while his ego is in full bloom, without the make-good powers. It wouldn't surprise me if he takes a walk after this series. (But only if he wins.)

2) He's bored. He's in a Finals against a coach that played head games with his starting point guard, gave JJ Reddick crunch-time minutes, and might be the most-hated coach of a successful team ever. This, after a series in which he had to go up against George Karl, who couldn't devise an inbounds play to save his life. Put yourself in Phil's shoes: this is like playing the toughest multi-day poker tournament on the planet, only to discover that the final group is made up of people who pick their feet at the table and put the cards on their foreheads. You'd throw it back, too.

3) He's playing a different game. Maybe he sees something he likes in Lee, and is laying the seed of a future free agent signing by having his back here. Or he sees this as an opportunity for greater media run, possibly a little bit of a PR bath for all of the snide crap he's said over the years about opposing team's crowds.

4) He's trying to get his team's attention. After the Game One confetti bucket line, the Magic have played the Lakers at even or better, and it's possible -- not likely, but possible -- that Jackson doesn't think he's got the talent to just win this without going to the whip. So he denigrates his own team's win, subtly, to try to get them to amp up the intensity and close things out early, because he thinks his team's vulnerable if the Magic get some momentum. (If this one is the case, it didn't work, at least not in Game Three... though frankly, the Magic shot the ball so well last night, I'm not sure that we can draw the lesson that the Lakers didn't bring their "A" game.)

5) He's showing off. Give the man his due; he came up with a fresh take on the ending of one of the more over-analyzed endings in recent NBA history. The rest of the media (and I went there too) went for the Nick Anderson Play, but Phil found a new way to cover the ground, because he's just smarter than everyone else. Look, he knows Zen and everything. How are you supposed to compete?

Personally, I'm going for #4, because while #1 makes sense, the man enjoys having money and fame too much. But your mileage may vary.

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