Changing of the Guard: the Curtain Call for Coach Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher

Similarly, after making the finals for the past three seasons, Laker fans began looking for new challenges for the team to overcome; we perceived Dallas as a great new adventure because Kobe and Dirk have never met in the playoffs.  The Spurs we’ve beaten more times than anyone can count, the Celtics we’ve now vanquished, but the Mavericks are uncharted territory waiting to be taken over.

Coming into the series I fully expected the Lakers to cruise. I was so confident that even when the Lakers were down two in game one, I expected to see Kobe sink a game winner. Even Kobe believed the three ball over Kidd was good on release as he started to pump his fist; but now Kobe jumping up and down in frustration will be an image that lingers in the mind of all Laker fans over the summer as a microcosm of what could’ve been.

In game three, the Mavericks took the Lakers best punches and got back up. They dominated the inside, led by Kobe and Bynum the team looked to be in control of the game that really should’ve won. Down the stretch, the Lakers looked slow, lethargic and ultimately not as hungry as the Mavericks.  And what easily could be a 2-1 series advantage was now an insurmountable 3-0 hole.

By now we’re all familiar with the story of game four. The Black Mamba came out firing on all cylinders in the first quarter with 15 points, before the Mavericks busted the game wide open in the second quarter. The Lakers lied flat on their back again in an elimination game, similar to game five of the 2004 finals when the Pistons steamrolled them by 13 and game six of the 2008 finals when the Celtics were popping champagne by half time.  No one showed up to game four besides Kobe, Fisher, Coach Jackson and Artest whenever he felt like it. In the fourth quarter thanks to Bynum and Odom, the game began to resemble a 12 round boxing match more than a basketball game.

“This is the worst the Lakers have played in a game they needed,” said a visibly emotional Magic during the half time show.

Michael Wilbon added: “this is sort of sad to watch even if you have no investment in the Lakers.”

Watching the second half of game four was like watching the funeral to the era of Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

For the first time since they came together in 1999, they were outmatched.

Jackson was being out-coached by Rick Carlisle, and he looked helpless as the Mavs unleashed three after three after three.

D-Fish was unable to find the fountain of youth as he usually does around this time of year, whether it was Barea or Kidd, try as he could but Fish couldn’t keep up.

Even Bryant was outmatched. He no longer had the ability to take over the game offensively whenever he wanted. He was unable to get into the paint for easy buckets and became a one dimensional jump shooter. You can credit Kidd for playing him unbelievably well, but like Fisher it appeared father time had finally caught up with the Black Mamba.

By failing to win a championship this year it, was the first time Jackson failed to complete a three-peat, and Kobe will remain one title short of Michael Jordan’s six.

It was strange to watch Phil Jackson look surprisingly upbeat in the post-game press conference talking about how much he’d enjoy being back in Montana. What struck me was how Coach Jackson was referring to the Lakers as “the Lakers”, like he was a neutral party, instead of “we” like he usually does.

Kobe’s retort to a reporter asking him how he would’ve responded if someone told him the Lakers would be swept before this series was even more telling.

“What do you think?” Bryant said, replying a question with a question.

I’ll tell you what I think Kobe.

I think that the loss to the Mavericks should be an occasion of celebration instead of mourning.

Next: Celebrating A Legendary Team
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