There's no doubt about it, Phil Jackson is the greatest coach who our generation has ever seen. You can debate what type of talent (be it Michael & Scottie and Kobe & Shaq/Gasol) he's had around him and what difference that would make, but the man has won 10 championships in 19 seasons and is on the brink of #11. He's set the bar so high that it almost seems egregious that Doc Rivers has found a way to match wits with the Zen Master. (Doc is 7-5 in the finals against Phil)
However, did you know that this is only the 4th Game 7 Phil Jackson has ever coached? This is the first Game 7 for Phil in the finals and there has never been more on the line than what will take place tomorrow night. Let's hop into the Hot Tub Time Machine and check out Phil's other appearances in Game 7 with the Bulls. Yes, the Lakers did go 7 games with the Kings back in 2002 but I refuse to believe that game should've existed in the first place. I think you'll notice a theme start to set in. Anyway, let's reflect to '92 and '98.
1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Chicago defeats the
During the playoffs in the Bulls six championship seasons, Phil Jackson never lost a game during the first round. In 1992, a now historically relevant Knicks team became known for such a brutally physical series that set the stage for one of the great rivalries of the 1990s. The Knicks did a great job of spreading the floor and throwing bodies at the rim to grab every loose ball and rebound that they could. They literally went in and tried to punk the Bulls and it almost worked. (Xavier McDaniel was such a goon...just watch the video if you don't remember.)
You've got to remember, this was being billed as possibly one of the greatest upsets in basketball history. Phil's only hope was that they were going to have to out-execute the Knicks. Michael as a leader stood valiantly against Xavier McDaniel and crew and the triangle thoroughly eviscerated the Knicks in the 7th game. I think its interesting to look at all of the great plays MJ made in this game. He made phenomenal defensive plays, amazing passes, and played with that "we're not going to lose this game" mentality.
1998 Eastern Conference Finals, Bulls defeat Pacers at the United Center
Michael Jordan’s final championship team was pushed to the limits in a scary seven-game series with the Pacers. Larry Bird took over the reigns from Larry Brown and turned this Pacer team into a bunch of trained killers. In fact, they had a very similar makeup to the '92 Knicks (more on this in a moment) as they have a tough and versatile front line, great shooters on the wing, and heady point guard play.
For Jordan and Pippen's standards, this was one of the worst shooting performances they ever had. #23 and #33 shot a combined 15-43 (34.8%) and struggled mightily against the Pacers defense. Why did the Bulls win? Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr put up monster performances as role players as they combined for 32 points and pumped in 6 three's. Plus, the defense was superb. The Bulls held the Pacers scoreless over the final 2:05 and reached the Finals for the sixth time in eight years.
What does all this mean Ed?
Glad you asked, lets look at the similarities of those past game 7's going into tomorrow night:
- Phil Jackson's team will go against a frontline that isn't scared of them, provide a ton of versatility, and have a goon-like mentality.
- Mark Jackson is prominently involved in this game.
- All 4 basketball coaches were former NBA players. (Jackson, Riley, Bird, Rivers)
- Jackson's opposition had guards that were fearless. (Starks, Miller, Shuttlesworth)
- Jackson's team had a transcendent player that the opposing team had no answer. (Jordan & Bryant)
- Jackson's team had a #2 player who has extremely versatile and stood up when necessary. (Pippen & Gasol)
- Jackson's team had home-court advantage.
Every time Jackson's got to Game 7, all of these variables were in play. Every time he has emerged victorious. It seems obvious then that Phil will find a way to win tomorrow night, he's done it before. Yet, there's a reason why you play the game. Doc Rivers and the Celtics will be ready. Let's just appreciate this Game 7 in the finals for what it is, phenomenal basketball. May the best team win.
(Hopefully that team is the one wearing green, yeah I said it.)
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk (and hopefully on the radio soon) show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!