Lakers' 122-86 Game 4 loss ends underachieving season and a dynasty in embarrassing fashion
The slight smile on his face masked Lakers Coach Phil Jackson's emotions when he stopped midcourt of American Airlines Arena and shook the hands of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Coach Rick Carlisle. What was going through his mind as he left the court after what was probably the last game of a storied coaching career? The slight smile also masked his obvious frustration at the Lakers' embarrassing 122-86 Game 4 elimination loss Sunday to the Dallas Mavericks.
The lasting images that stain the Lakers losing in horrific fashion point to forward Lamar Odom throwing a shoulder into Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki and center Andrew Bynum throwing a forearm at Dallas guard J.J. Barea in separate fourth-quarter incidents that earned them ejections. But it also points to the Lakers' sending off Jackson's 19-year NBA coaching career that spanned 11 NBA championships, 13 NBA Finals appearances and 229 playoffs wins in the most unimaginable way possible.
With the exception of Kobe Bryant's 17 points on seven-of-18 shooting effort, no one brought the necessary intensity to prevent a sweep. With the cheap-shot plays from Odom and Bynum, the Lakers didn't handle the end of a Jackson dynasty with the necessary class. And in direct contrast to the Lakers molding themselves as a defensive-oriented team, they displayed little semblance of that as they continued struggling on rotations to mark open perimeter shots, resulting in Dallas shooting 60.3% from the field and 62.5% from three-point range.
"This is the worst I've seen the Lakers play in a game that they needed," Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said as an ESPN analyst. "The Lakers are already on vacation and they didn't want to play this game."
The sad thing: Johnson only needed to see the Lakers' first half in which they trailed 63-39, shot 14 of 38 from the field (37%), allowed Dallas to shoot 11 of 15 from three-point range and appeared outplayed in reserve play (40-7) to make that assessment.
That's why it's unfortunate for Jackson that he spent what's presumed to be the last game of his coaching career like that. Within a three-minute, 15-second span in the second quarter, Jackson stood up on the sideline performing a series of moves that hardly defined his storied coaching career. He called three timeouts, demonstrating his belief that he should grant players trust in learning on their own doesn't apply to this group. He yelled at players, including Gasol, Bynum and Odom, showing his belief that exuding calmness helps the Lakers' psyche doesn't apply to this group. And he immediately re-inserted his starters, revealing that his belief that empowering players to learn through their mistakes doesn't apply to this group.
Jackson deviated from his general philosophy for obvious reasons, knowing the stakes of an elimination game were so high. But this illustrates perhaps the biggest indictment on the Lakers. With all the concepts Jackson taught this experienced team in maintaining its composure, staying in the moment and trusting one another, the Lakers spent all series doing the exact opposite, finger-pointing, refusing to help out on defense and never taking responsibility.
As disappointing an end this marks for Jackson amid the lost opportunity in collecting a 12th NBA title and three-peating for the fourth time in his coaching career, this loss hardly stains his storied legacy. But it surely stains the legacy of the Lakers' 2010-2011 team that never gave Jackson the storybook ending he deserved.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: (Top) Coach Phil Jackson leaves the court after the Lakers' Game 4 loss in Dallas on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times. (Bottom) Guards Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and DeShawn Stevenson of the Mavericks embrace after Game 4 on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.