It’s like I said, Phil Jackson’s master plan was obvious if you were paying attention the other night when the Lakers allowed the Suns to become overconfident.
Phil’s been around long enough to know it’s a truism in sports -- when professional athletes get pounded and humiliated, you can usually count on them roaring back in their next performance in an effort to recapture their pride.
What better way to motivate the Lakers than let them get run over in Phoenix? Maybe Phil’s best coaching job of the year.
Phil also knows a superior team is usually ripe for an upset or letdown after pounding and humiliating an opponent, setting the stage Thursday night for the complete turnaround -- a shocking Lakers’ victory and a stunning Suns’ defeat.
The playoffs are on, and how foolish do you feel today thinking the Lakers had no shot of winning again this season?
Wasn’t that Phil’s plan all along, the Suns motivated to end a five-game losing streak in Game 2 situations, so Phil letting them have their fun while getting the attention of his own players?
Phil called a team meeting Wednesday, finding a willing audience and allowing him to do what he does best, and that’s play mind games. This was a team that appeared finished 48 hours earlier in Phoenix, returning home to hear everyone on the local sports talk shows suggest it might be time to blow up the Lakers’ roster and start over. And how many of you were resigned to the fact this would be a sweep?
“Hogwash,” could very well have been the Lakers’ rallying cry entering Game 3, the Lakers given the perfect chance to prove everyone wrong -- and fueled by the ultimate “us versus the world” motivational theme. If ever there was a playoff game for these talent-challenged Lakers to win, it was this one, the Staples Center crowd certainly giving it its all from the start.
Upsets don’t come easy, though. The Lakers fell behind, 11-0, looking every bit overmatched as they had two nights earlier in Phoenix.
They went on to trail by 17, closing within 14 at the end of the first quarter, but beginning the second quarter with Kobe Bryant on the bench.
For a moment there, the local sports talk show hosts looked like they knew what they were talking about. One more loss, and it would be Mitch Kupchak’s turn to get blistered on the airwaves, because it has to be somebody’s fault and what fun is it picking on Smush Parker if he’s not even going to be here next year?
With Bryant on the bench, the Lakers on the floor cut five points off the Suns’ lead, which might very well qualify for a team record. Brian Cook even made a shot.
Something else also happened in the second quarter, the Lakers playing like a team suddenly learning that defense can also make a difference in the outcome. The Suns obviously had no reason to expect such a Lakers discovery after posting 31 points in the first quarter.
The Lakers’ defense limited the Suns to 20 points in the second quarter, 19 in the third and it was 74-70 in favor of the Lakers beginning the fourth quarter with Kwame Brown playing the way Michael Jordan once envisioned and no one here could have possibly dreamed.
Only one quarter to play, unfortunately the most troubling quarter for these Lakers down the stretch, who had shown an inability to close out games. Worried?
Phil’s master plan had it covered, though, the Lakers not only hanging on to regain their pride, but once again limiting Phoenix to 19 points and outscoring them in the final quarter. And some of you thought Phil had no idea what he was doing the other night in Phoenix. Shame on you.
GIVEN THE Lakers’ performance against Phoenix, it was going to be interesting to see what highlights they displayed on the white curtains draped from the overhead scoreboard to fire up the crowd before introductions.
Whatever they showed, they were out of focus, and while they cranked up the music, the blurry images on the curtains appeared to be a mishmash of highlights from games played earlier this season. The montage concluded with the word, “Represent” appearing in big letters. Represent? That sounds like the stuff that moral victories are built on. How about, Win!
WHEN ASKED about the fragile psyche of his basketball team and what he was doing about it before Game 3, Jackson said, “We basically had an AA crying and whining” session to clear the air.
One reporter wanted to know if Jackson was trying to say he “had a bunch of drunks on the team?” It’s as good an explanation as any the way they played the other night.
Lamar Odom said the meeting, which was called by Jackson, was “a cleansing, an enema,” while adding with great relief, he “couldn’t discuss the details.”
THINGS ARE really looking up for the Lakers. The NBA had 129 sportswriters and broadcasters voting for the most improved player in the game this season, and one of them gave a third-place vote to Andrew Bynum. Another voter also gave a third-place vote to Luke Walton. The pair tied for 21st place.
And you thought the future looked bleak for the Lakers.
TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Luigi Santoriello:
“I read your article, ‘Jackson’s master plan seems obvious,’ three times and I couldn’t tell if it was an ironic report, or it was just what you suspected. If it was irony, we don’t need that right now. Fans are frustrated and topping frustration with that kind of report is not fair to the team or fans. If you meant what you wrote, then why would coach Jackson give away a game just to trick the Suns? What did you really mean?”
No way you’re going to get me to read it again.
T.J. Simers can be reached at
email@example.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.