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Art Garcia

Could the legacies of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant be affected if the Lakers can't rally against the Celtics?
Ronald Martinez/NBAE/Getty Images

Zen Master's reputation on the line as Lakers try to regroup

Posted Jun 15 2010 6:31AM

We've all heard the stat: Phil Jackson is undefeated (47-0) in series when his teams win the first game. That run of playoff success is unmatched and, frankly, pretty awesome.

Well, what about this stat? Jackson squads are 1-5 when trailing 3-2. History is going to give this week, as either the Ten Master keeps perfection alive or the Lakers fall by The Finals wayside.

The defending champs return to Los Angeles after losing the last two in Boston, losing control of the series in the process. Jackson has always been the ultimate frontrunner, as that Game 1 stat illustrates.

Jackson prefers to be ahead of the pack, and above the fray, watching as others respond and counter and adjust. Many accuse Jackson of being arrogant and condescending. Winners usually get that rap.

And the Lakers were in the familiar position of imposing their will as recently as six days ago. Kobe Bryant and his on-again, off-again support staff had a 2-1 series lead after manning up against the Celtics in Game 3 at the Garden.

These weren't supposed to be the same Lakers of 2008. The Lakers that were beaten up and mentally crumbled. These Lakers were supposed to be the embodiment of Kobe and Philip: Unfazed and unflappable.

Finals Comebacks
Only six teams in NBA Finals history have won titles after trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven series.
1954-55 Syracuse
1961-62 Boston
1968-89 LA Lakers
1977-78 Washington
1987-88 Lakers
1993-95 Houston
courtesy Elias Stats Bureau

Instead, they were bickering in Game 5 like kids who can't choose sides on the playground. So much has changed in the last six days for the Lakers, leaving Jackson with perhaps his greatest professional challenge.

Can the preeminent favorite mount a comeback? Is there time to seal the leaks that sprung up in Boston and rally the troops for a coach not known for his rallying cries? Phil can't pass out enough books from now until tipoff Tuesday night to get everyone back on the same page.

For the first time since June 17, 2008, the Lakers are facing elimination. The Celtics won then by 39 points. Jackson said that hardly matters now.

"We're upbeat about going into this game," he said.

That's hard to believe considering the 180 in series momentum. Maybe this isn't about Jackson. Maybe it has more to do with Andrew Bynum's bum knee or Ron Artest playing like one or the Missing Persons Alert filed on behalf of Pau Gasol in Game 5.

Perhaps Kobe is to blame. His one-man show in the third quarter was dazzling all right, but did it take the other Lakers out of the game? Some argue they weren't in it to begin with. Isn't this where Zen is needed most?

Jackson wanted to stick with Kobe's hot hand. While that seems reasonable, these Lakers made it a point all year of saying they were more than just Kobe. Gasol was being touted as arguably the league's most skilled, if not best, big man. They were longer than anyone else. Ron-Ron's contributions, while often subtle, were invaluable. Lamar Odom was an All-Star caliber sixth man.

And ruling the kingdom from his elevated courtside throne is Jackson. He owns the most NBA coaching championships and is the all-time leader in juggling personalities. From Jordan to Kobe and Rodman to Artest. Jackson is the spiritual leader who doesn't get outcoached, but when it comes to X's & O's in this series, it's been the other medicine man.

Doc Rivers is pushing all the right buttons for a team that's come off tougher in whatever measurable category applies to a basketball team. The list of Celtics contributing at one point or another in The Finals extends to two-thirds of the roster. Jackson is riding Kobe.

Is that enough? Bryant heroics don't have the same air of invincibility they had six days ago. The Jackson Mystique appears vulnerable, too. The same coach who won his first nine Finals trips would fall to 1-3 in the last four should Boston win one in Los Angeles.

Yes, the standard of perfection isn't fair for anyone, but this is Phil Jackson. He's judged by a different standard. He wants it that way. So do the Lakers.

So as they return to Staples, Jackson naturally acts as if nothing is wrong. The Celtics, the same team he said knows "how to lose" in the fourth quarter Sunday night, didn't do anything special in taking two of three in Beantown.

"They've come home and carried the 3-2 lead back," Jackson calmly explained. "It's basically home court, home court. Now we're going back to home court to win it. That's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it?"

He's got 47 reasons to believe.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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