Jackson Played an Old Hand

Paul Westphal, coach of the Pepperdine basketball team and a former NBA all-star and coach of the Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics, will analyze the NBA Finals for The Times, as told to Steve Henson

It wasn't exactly a Zen moment.

I watched the game with a Pepperdine recruit from France who is a 76er fan. He started whooping and shouting when Philadelphia pulled within seven in the fourth quarter.

I told him, "Don't get excited young man. It's just a bump in the road."

Veteran Ron Harper came off the bench and awakened the Laker execution. He gave them the extra ballhandler needed to get into the offense. Shaquille O'Neal made a couple shots and order was restored.

The 76ers put their quickest defensive team on the court--George Lynch, Dikembe Mutombo, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie and Allen Iverson--and rallied. They forced turnovers and made the Lakers take ill-advised shots.

Phil Jackson sensed it was coming and called a timeout early in the fourth quarter. He knew the only way his team could lose was by getting complacent. He didn't make a substitution and the 76ers ran off a few more points.

Then Jackson put in Harper and everything calmed down.

Jackson shares something with Larry Brown, Red Auerbach, John Wooden and Red Holtzman, great coaches all. They understand the game belongs to the players.

A player can't be afraid to make a mistake. Jackson is criticized sometimes for not calling timeouts often enough, but that's actually a strength. He conveys to the players he trusts them. That is hard for observers to understand.

The Laker defense was exceptional. They have rangy, quick guys who can switch when necessary, double-team in special circumstances and rotate out when the special circumstances cease.

O'Neal guards the basket and gets rebounds, but he is also the best place for a quick, versatile opponent to attack. He doesn't defend the pick-and-roll well and teams try to get him away from the basket.

The Lakers make that difficult by forcing the opponent with the ball away from the screen and toward O'Neal, who can remain near the basket.

The Lakers have done a great job of double-teaming Iverson and contesting his shots.

Because the Lakers force Iverson to the baseline so well, Philadelphia didn't start him with the ball. Iverson started in the corner and his teammates handed off to him on the run.

However, they were able to run the play only a few times. The Lakers adjusted by not letting Iverson come out of the corner. It's difficult to trick the Lakers for long.

I thought the first three games turned on emotion. It enabled Philadelphia to overachieve, and they got a victory and stayed close in the last two games. This time, emotion was absent.

The 76ers will summon a lot of emotion for Game 5. They don't want to lose the series at home.

But I figure it has to end in Game 5 because NBC is running out of halftime shows. They'll be reduced to showing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Kobe Bryant commercials.

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