Jackson can’t run rings around him

Times Staff Writer

BOSTON -- This is the NBA’s version of the prince, on the cusp of possibly becoming a king, against the pauper.

This is Lakers Coach Phil Jackson striving for an NBA-record 10 championships, one for each finger, and pass Celtics icon Red Auerbach in the process.

This is Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who has never coached a team here, needed his squad to have an exemplary season to bring his coaching record above .500, and who was still playing by the time Jackson had already been polishing three rings.


Much has been made about the start of today’s NBA Finals, a renewing of the rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics. Much has also been made of the game within the game, where Jackson will pit matchups and schemes against Rivers, in his first Finals appearance.

What does it all mean?


Or nothing.

“Phil has the resume and he’s been there,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. “But hey, that goes out the window once you step foot on the court. It’s zero-zero in my eyes. With all due respect to Phil and what he’s done for the NBA, Doc, I think he’s on his way in that direction.”

And as veteran Celtics guard Sam Cassell succinctly says:

“Doc ain’t gotta make no baskets. He’s not gonna turn the ball over. He’s gonna call the same plays he called in the regular season. The scenario is gonna be the same.”

The same except for one large difference.

A 10-0 difference, as far as trips this late into the postseason.

“Probably night and day would be the two,” Rivers said of describing his level of experience against Jackson’s. “I mean, I’ve never been here and Phil has. He’s not only been here, he’s won nine of them, lost one. No, there’s no comparison.”

Jackson was not ready to make one either.

“I’m not going to think our experience is going to be any greater than the staff of the Celtics,” he said, later adding, “We’re going to have to make adjustments and hopefully, our team is up to the ability to do that, and that’s some of the things that we can bring.”

The main difference in experience could be felt off the court, according to longtime Lakers assistant Frank Hamblen.

“You know the dance routine, in regard to the media,” he said in the stands at TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday, pointing to a mob of reporters.

“And you have to try and put as many distractions away from your team as you can. As far as people coming to visit, tickets -- put all those away and do your due diligence and concentrate on basketball.”

Jackson and Rivers took alternate routes to get here.

Jackson has utilized the triangle offense and his unorthodox, sometimes laissez-faire approach to six titles with the Chicago Bulls, then three with the Lakers.

“In terms of just feeling when to call a timeout, when to trust the bench a little longer than normal,” Fisher said of Jackson’s feel for games during a legendary career carved out in postseason success. “Those are things coaches develop as they get more experience.”

Rivers, on the other hand, was on the hot seat much of last season when Pierce limped through it and the Celtics finished well below .500 for a second straight season.

“Probably everybody who loved the Celtics wanted him out of here,” Pierce said. “There were times we’d come to the game, some guys had up ‘Fire Doc’ signs. And it was like, ‘Man, that’s how the fans feel?’

“But then you’ve got to realize what he had to go through from a year ago. He had to go through me getting hurt. Nobody saw that coming. With the team that we had, what did people expect? Nobody expected us to go to the playoffs with me healthy.”

Then coming into this season, Rivers had to merge and mold the talents of Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, a triumvirate used to individual accomplishments but relatively unaccustomed to molding those goals into a team concept.

“Ray, offensively, I knew coming in would be the toughest because he needs cuts and action for him to get his shots off,” Rivers said. “Kevin, you can literally close your eyes and throw the ball to him and something good is going to happen, and Paul is one of the best scorers in the league.”

And while Jackson is a hulking figure even when perched on an oversized chair on the sidelines, Rivers looks as if he could take his suit off and start running the point again at any moment.

“Doc is a fiery guy,” Cassell said. “Sometimes, if he’s mad enough, he’s gonna jump in your face and tell you how he feels and you can jump up in his face and tell him how you feel. He’s an ex-player, so he understands.”

And that won’t change this series.

“I’m going to coach my team and he’s going to coach his team,” Rivers said. “Like I said last series, we couldn’t match Detroit’s experience, so why try? I’m not going to try. I’m just going to do my job.”




Comparing the coaching careers of Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers: