Gentry Outcoaching Phil
Phil Jackson is the most sought after coach in basketball at the moment, which wouldn’t be so surprising except for one small fact.
The Zenmaster has been getting outcoached and, apparently, out-Zened by his Arizona counterpart, Alvin Gentry, these past two games.
It was one thing when Gentry’s gritty but undersized Suns sprung the zone defense that confused the Lakers in Game 3. Everyone knew the Phil-meister would come up with something to counteract the zone in Game 4.
Well, guess what? He really didn’t. When it mattered most, Gentry figured out a way to take Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakes’ two best players, out of the game in the fourth quarter. The Suns’ zone must have sucked them into a sideways world left over from the finale of “Lost,” or something.
Zap. Kobe and Pau all but disappeared like the Smoke Monster, and the final crucial minutes of the evening were left for Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom to shoot wildly from outside.
While everybody but the mayor of Phoenix was hitting 3-pointers for the Suns, the Lakers had nobody who could keep up, and a series that many felt was over leaving L.A. is now suddenly tied at two apiece, heading back to Staples Center, after that 115-106 loss in the desert.
Should Lakers’ fans lose any sleep over any of this? Not really. Back home in the friendly confines with Jack and the gang, Jackson’s team still doesn’t figure to lose either Game 5 or, if necessary, Game 7.
But what happened last night was still disturbing. How could Jackson let the Lakers keep popping away from 3-point land and missing without calling a time out sometime during that final period and telling them: “Look, guys, I don’t want anybody but Kobe and Pau shooting the rest of the way.”
A zone can cause problems, but it’s not that tough to figure out. Somebody has to dribble into the heart of it, make the defenders commit, then find an open man. It’s in your basic Coaching 101 manual.
But the Lakers acted like they never had heard of it. Jackson sat there in that usual lounge-like chair, as if he were in a trance, just staring at what was going on. Strange, huh?
While we’re at it, isn’t it time somebody ask why GM Mitch Kupchak has let all these seasons go by without finding another proven outside shooter for this team? Kobe is a great scorer, and he shot the lights out early Tuesday night. But there are plenty of times when his jumper isn’t working.
And whenever that happens, there is no other dependable outside option. Fisher has made some big shots in his career, but check out his percentages from outside. They’re not good. Artest is even worse, although he seems to envision himself as another Larry Bird at times. And as for Odom, well, he is who he is, a guy who can’t even be counted on to make free throws when it really matters.
The funny part is, while this series now gets more serious than it should, Jackson is being mentioned as a possible new coach for the Chicago Bulls, who supposedly would then bring in his highness, LeBron James.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been a big Phil guy. You don’t win ten NBA Championships without knowing what you’re doing. The man deserves his reputation as one of the greatest coaches in league history.
But for all he’s already accomplished, he hasn’t looked so good in the past few days. Phoenix’s Gentry, meanwhile, has been coaching his socks off, and he’s made Jackson and the Lakers appear ordinary in games 3 and 4.
My advice for Phil is to lock his guys in a room sometime today and quietly explain to them the fundamentals of a zone defense. Let’s not forget that heading into the fourth quarter in Game 2 at Staples, the score was tied at 90. Think about that for a moment. A few breaks here and there, and the Lakers could be coming home down 3-1 in this series.
So it’s time to stop fooling around. Time for Jackson to live up to his $12 million-a-year billing. Time for him to get his team to straighten up.
And zone in.
— Steve Bisheff