With practice canceled for both teams on Friday, head coaches Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy participated in phone conference calls with reporters on the line.
Here are the two head men’s responses to varying questions on the heels of L.A.’s dramatic 99-91 Game 4 victory over Orlando:
Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today’s conference call featuring coaches from both teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic. We’ll begin now with Coach Phil Jackson of the Lakers. Would you like to just make an opening remark?
PHIL JACKSON: Yeah, I just wanted to inform our listeners and participants that having won that game, which was obviously a big push for us and a great advance towards winning a championship, we recognize the fact that we still have a big battle, big game to win before we can do anything more or claim anything. I have not watched the full tape. I have seen up to the third quarter, but I will respond to any questions about the game and the future games.
Q. I’ve been assigned to place you in context, in your place in history. I know you’re just stuck at nine titles so you’re tied with Red right now, but just on a general notion, how do you feel when you hear yourself asked about a, quote, place in history?
PHIL JACKSON: Well, you know, we try to work under the assumption that you’re only successful the moment you perform a successful act, and in that regard, this has not been accomplished yet. So talking about futuristic things kind of throws me for a loop. Talking about Red Auerbach’s record and what he accomplished as an NBA coach, I can again as a young player in the NBA looking at those records of the Celtics and realizing and thinking about how unattainable they are, how remarkable 11 championships at that time were, and the fact that Red coached nine championships, world championships. So I do know that it’s a momentous thing.
Q. Do you have a theory on whether you should foul or shouldn’t foul based on how much time is left in the game?
PHIL JACKSON: Yeah, I do. I usually go with anything under five seconds and if the ball is taken out in the half court area, guys coming away from the basket, you want to foul them and make them restart again. You know, usually if there’s somewhere over eight, nine, ten seconds, you want to make them put the ball on the floor, use some time maybe before you give a foul. But that’s not a hard, fast rule. There are times when we have fouled just to say, look, let’s make them start over again, let’s have them reset, have to get the ball back in again and then we’ll go from there. We want to see what they’re going to do. That’s been an option, too. But for the most part it’s usually five seconds.
Q. Your team made a couple of passes and Fish put the ball on the floor two or three times. Were you surprised that no foul ever came?
PHIL JACKSON: Well, once he put the ball on the floor and he was driving the ball up the court, it became difficult for the defender to know whether to foul or not because then he can go into his shooting motion, and any time a guy comes to foul at that point when no one was there with him, and obviously they had thrown two guys at Kobe to double team him and get him off the ball in that situation, that put Derek in the driver’s seat.
Q. How do you keep the emotions in check, even the excitement in check, that the players are feeling the next 48 hours with the knowledge they’re one win away from a championship?
PHIL JACKSON: You know, I don’t know if I have the expertise in that department. This is something that really has got a lot to do with how Orlando plays. We just have to go out there and assume the fact that we’re going to have to play at a very elevated level to win this game. The big key is that if we can match that play and the energy that they throw out there on the floor, then we give ourselves a chance. To do that we have to be focused, which is always a coach’s cry, get focused. We have to reach the energy level or the emotional level of the game in a way that matches what the crowd and the Orlando team put out there on the floor.
Q. Did you sense any over excitement on the players’ behalf after the game last night?
PHIL JACKSON: Oh, without a doubt. They’re excited about the possibility of winning, and they’re thrilled to have won that game. Yeah, there’s no doubt that they’re excited about it. This morning we had a short team meeting just to kind of clarify what we’re going to get accomplished in the next day and a half here sitting around waiting, getting plans made for tomorrow, et cetera. And you can sense the mood of the team is they’re really excited about it. But what I told them is there’s a chance tomorrow’s practice may be the last practice of the season. That’s also something that gets them pretty excited because practice for players is something that is at this level of the game, having gone through hundreds or probably more than a hundred some practices, they’re excited about not having to come to practice again.
Q. Considering how important Trevor and Lamar have both been to your postseason run, what do you think about what lies ahead for you guys in the offseason, potentially having to make a decision between those two players?
PHIL JACKSON: You know, I don’t know if that’s actually what’s going to happen. I mean, that’s not written in stone, that we have to make a decision between those two players. I don’t think that’s a case at all. This is just part of the NBA, what level the NBA has brought to the game at this point, is you have players that you have decisions to make in the free agent life, and last year Boston lost one of its key players in James Posey and they had to go on and let him go to free agency. I think that didn’t bother him. I think it hurt him in the course of the season, but that’s what you have to do is you have to maintain discipline and whatnot. So we’ll discuss that and a number of other things with personnel in a couple of weeks.
Q. I know you’ve talked about Trevor’s development over the last year several times, but especially after his third quarter last night, can you just talk about the player he’s become in the short time that you’ve had him?
PHIL JACKSON: Well, Trevor is a player that we thought was a developing player as we got him. I mean, this is a young guy that obviously we felt came out of college early in hopes of getting drafted and ended up in New York and never got fully developed as a player in college or in the pros because he didn’t stay in one organization long enough to do that. We thought that his ability to develop as a player was going to be key. This is the year that he’s really shown that development as a player. The big key with Trevor is you have to learn how to shoot the shot, and this year he’s learned how to shoot the shot to go along with his drive, his slash game. And here he is in a position that every player envies, having an opportunity to perform on a championship team and be in a free agency situation behind it.
Q. You kind of joked yesterday when somebody asked you a question, you said, “I don’t really do anything, I just sit on the bench.” But do you think that you’re a better coach now in all seriousness in this Finals than maybe you were in your first Finals years ago? And if so, how?
PHIL JACKSON: Well, that’s a hard thing to measure, I guess, first of all. A lot of things, what you are as a coach, end up being that way because of the players you have and the talent that you have on a team, and obviously that team that was in Chicago was a very talented team. I think temperament wise, yeah, I’m probably a better coach in that degree, probably not as excitable, probably not as intense, much more patient. So those things are I think obvious things that have happened to me as I’ve coached. I don’t know if that makes me better or not.
Q. Any comment on the report that the league did not suspend Pietrus for his actions on Gasol?
PHIL JACKSON: No. I won’t weigh in on that. I don’t think that it’s necessary. We know that these things are a lot of it is arbitrary. It looked like a serious intention to come at him, and there was a Flagrant 1 that was called on him. But that’s just the way the game is now. You just don’t know what’s going to be judged as a flagrant foul and what isn’t. Usually it’s a blow above the shoulders is what’s the major differential between, okay, this is going to be a Flagrant 1 or 2, and then we go from there. But I’m really not a good enough judge of that yet. I haven’t got a good enough idea of what the league is doing to understand that in totality.
Q. I’m curious, you mentioned, and you said that Fish mentioned, 2000 Indiana Finals last night. What do you recall about that game where you guys ended up getting blown out, and was that an indication of that team’s kind of callowness, not understanding how to deal with the moment, and do you have any concerns about the guys on this team, Kobe and Fish, in that regard?
PHIL JACKSON: You know, I do. We recognize that the teams that get to The Finals are teams that have overcome obstacles in the course of a year. They’ve overcome playoff difficulties, they’ve fought for a sense of unity together. I think that’s the point Fish was making. It wasn’t so much about the fact that the team went out and goofed off and messed around and whatnot. But it was the mental attitude that, oh, we’ve got them now type of thing. They don’t want to go back to LA. That happened to us last year versus Boston. We had a game which we lost that was a heart breaking game, game No. 5 in LA, a comeback by Boston, 20 points down, come back and take that game. We came back and won that game simply for the fact of winning at home, winning it because, a let’s not lose in front of our home fans type of thing. I think that’s the attitude that Fish is trying to express, that these guys are going to play their hearts out and they’re going to play really hard, and we have to match that.
Q. Is there anything to the fact that your team went through what it did with Boston last year and that kind of put these guys in the right place mentally knowing what they have to do then?
PHIL JACKSON: We hope so, we really do. A lot of it depends upon very small things. This came is about inches and sometimes just a trifle, and last night, I mean, Howard had to miss two free throws to get us in the position where we could come back. So a lot of it depends upon more things than what we can control, but what we can control we want to.
Q. I was just wondering, when you first started out in Albany, did you think then this was really something you were going to make a career of as a coach, or was this something you thought you might do for a few years and then move on to something else?
PHIL JACKSON: You know, I had a private business at the time I was in, a partner in a business, and that was a very difficult time. I’m making this explanation probably a little bit larger than possible, but interest rates were anywhere from 18 to 15 percent during this period of starting a new business, and so after running the business for almost a year, the opportunity came for me to coach. It was a part time, four and a half, five month operation, and it was something that could help with our business problems, and my partner was perfectly capable of running it by himself. This was an opportunity for me. But I went there kind of on a gamut to see what it was like and ended up winning a championship in my first full year. I came for 17 games the spring before. You know, I think it just went from one success to the next, and after being there for four years, I realized that I wasn’t making a move and those salaries were at $25,000, and our kids were on the edge of high school, which meant college was soon, and I needed to get going in a career and I was turning 40 years of age. So I really literally quit the job and moved out into another field and looked at graduate school and law school, et cetera. You know, during that period of time, I had a series of interviews going on, but it was like either this has got to be the time or I’ve got to make a move for the sake of a family and the group of kids that are coming along. One of our sports announcers at a game, a New York Knick game, and he said basically to me, if you’re having success and it’s your bliss, make sure you do it, and successes will follow you. Certainly that’s what’s happened, and I’ve been fortunate to have the right opportunities follow behind it. But it was not something I had planned on doing when I was finished with basketball at age 34.
Q. You have often talked about the journey being the most fun part as opposed to the destination. Is it still that way for you? Is the team building and the team chemistry, camaraderie, still as enjoyable as whatever result happens at the end of the season?
PHIL JACKSON: I think it really is. I think that’s really the key about coaching is that you watch these young men develop from individuals and guys that are trying to find a way to make their own game happen to a team which is willing to sacrifice sometimes their own personal goals for the goals of the group. I think that’s a valuable experience not only for them, but it’s a wonderful feeling for guys.
Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy
THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by Coach Van Gundy, and we will open it up to questions.
Q. Not all teams have that comeback capability in them, but because your guys do, how much faith does it give you to buck the odds?
STAN VAN GUNDY: Well, it gives me a lot of faith, and I think that also the way these games have gone, you know, the last three, it’s not like we’re in a situation where we feel like we can’t play with the Lakers and don’t have a chance to win or anything else. I think our confidence level will be high. I think our guys have demonstrated incredible resiliency all year. I think they demonstrated it again last night with an awful third quarter, and for the Lakers to come back and take a lead and then we come right back and get back up five near the end of the game. So we’re a very, very resilient team, and I think I would expect us to play extremely well on Sunday.
Q. After a night’s sleep, do you have anything more about the foul situation when you were up by three?
STAN VAN GUNDY: No, you know what, first of all, the assumption of a night’s sleep is way off base, and the second thing is, I’ve rethought it and rethought it and rethought it, and it’s easy to say now do I wish we had fouled as opposed to giving that up? Yeah, but I still don’t think at 11 seconds to go in a game that we’re going to foul in that situation. I’ll put it this way: You always have regrets. Faced with the same situation again at 11 seconds, we still wouldn’t be telling them to foul.
Q. You’ve been tough on yourself after some losses this year. I’m just wondering, I won’t bring up the night’s sleep, but when you’ve had time to reflect upon this, how much blame are you heaping on yourself this morning? You said tonight you were going to be haunted by this.
STAN VAN GUNDY: Well, I mean, it’s just such a tough game. I think that last night, again, I don’t worry too much about the decision not to foul. About the only thing that sticks with me about my own as I think in general throughout the playoffs, in those situations like we’ve had late in the game, we’ve been able to come up with something on side out of bounds plays where we’ve been able to get a pretty good shot, and we weren’t able to do that last night. That’s frustrating to me as a coach. I think we’ve generally been good in those situations, and last night we weren’t. And we didn’t play the play very well with 11 seconds to go. So I do reflect back on whether there was something else we could have said in terms of instruction that would have gotten us to play that play a little bit tougher, because he really got a lot of airspace on that to shoot the ball. So I question that a little bit.
Q. Do you look back, you trapped Kobe so far in the backcourt, do you regret not trapping him further towards the midcourt stripe? And were your guys told to push up above the three point line there?
STAN VAN GUNDY: Well, look, we didn’t trap Kobe. What we did was we took the guy on the ball, put him on Kobe and never even let him inbound to the ball. And then Turk did a decent job of recovering back. That had nothing to do with the play because the ball went back to Ariza who was the inbounder, and then he got rid of the ball to Fisher. So had Ariza taken the ball and made a play or a shot, then I’d question that decision of denying the ball into Kobe, but I probably wouldn’t question that too much. You’re looking at 10.8 seconds, Kobe on the floor, I’m not going to question too much keeping him from getting the ball. You know, basically Jameer had one responsibility on the play, and that was to not give Derek Fisher a look at a three. It’s one of those things I’m sure Jameer wishes he had back and had played differently. I question whether we made that clear enough or could have told him to play the play a different way. But I thought we were pretty clear on that.
Q. You obviously didn’t want to foul with 11 seconds to go, but what about at midcourt when it was down to six or five?
STAN VAN GUNDY: By the time the ball went through the net, it was 4.6, so I mean, I don’t know when he shot it, but it would have had to have been around 6. Six or under would be about our time, so it would have been a tough play to make at that point anyway. I mean, he had to shoot it around the six second mark, 5.8, 5.9, so that would have been a tough play to make at that point, I think. At least by our strategy, and I think fouling earlier than that, even though it didn’t work out last night, I’m not sure I would change it. I’m not sure I’d be fouling. What’s the difference, six seconds, seven seconds, maybe you would, but you’re coming out of there at 11. That’s awful early, and especially the way we’ve been shooting free throws in the game. I think it would have been pretty tough. If you give them two, and now you come down and miss even one out of the two, now they’re coming back at you with six seconds, only needing a two and Kobe Bryant on the floor and the whole thing. That’s a difficult situation. So I just wouldn’t have fouled that early.
Q. A lot of people are asking today what’s the deal with Rafer and Jameer. You said after Game 1 that you played Jameer too many minutes and then he’s in for however many minutes he was in at the end of that game. It just seems like an inconsistent stance on your point. Can you talk about that?
STAN VAN GUNDY: You know, I did think I had played him too many minutes coming out in Game 1. But this is a different game. We could not have played a worse third quarter than we did last night, and then I thought in the fourth quarter we had a group that was functioning very well on the floor together. We got to the five minute mark. Around in there is when we were debating whether to bring Rafer back in the game. I had no problem with Rafer. The thing that I decided is that we had a unit on the floor that was playing well together. Then the next time really that I really thought about it was the start of overtime, and then Rafer had sat for 13 minutes, and I thought that would have been a very, very difficult time to inject somebody new into it. So that’s what happened. Obviously in any kind of loss people are going to question anything; that’s fine. But our fourth quarter unit functioned a lot better than our third quarter unit did, so I stuck with what was working.
Q. Along the same lines, and I know a lot of this is hindsight, but was there any thought of taking for defensive purposes, maybe taking Jameer out of that last defensive set and putting in Rafer or Courtney or whatever it might have been, to stick Fisher or whatever? I know it’s all hindsight.
STAN VAN GUNDY: I’m not saying you give thought to everything, but I didn’t specifically think about taking him out in that situation, no.
Q. And again, will the rotation with the point guard scenario, will you basically have to go with a feel for the game and not do what the standard taking a guy out somewhere at some point in the second quarter and seeing what happens?
STAN VAN GUNDY: I mean, we’ll stick with pretty much the rotation we’ve had. I thought we got hit with a pretty extreme situation last night. I don’t want to indicate at all that this was Rafer’s fault, but we just played extremely poorly in the third quarter. I mean, that was as bad a stretch as we have had in this series, and so we were playing very poorly.
And then the unit we had in there in the fourth quarter got going and playing very well. I thought very well. And I did not want to disrupt that. That wasn’t a change in rotation; that to me was an extreme difference between how one unit had played and another unit was playing. I wanted to stick with the unit that was playing much, much better.
Q. I was just wondering when Dwight talked last night about the two foul shots with 11 seconds, he was pretty, I’m not going to get down about it. I was wondering if you think there’s going to be any fallout for him and how you kind of react to him basically saying, look, we all missed a lot of shots like that.
STAN VAN GUNDY: Well, I think that he’s right about that. Fallout from what? I mean, the guy put out one of the absolute great efforts that I’ve seen him make or anybody make, 20 plus rebounds, nine blocks, played his heart out and missed two free throws. As I said to somebody last night, I think it was John Denton, he asked him after the game if I was upset about the free throw shooting. That’s not something that I get upset about. I mean, there’s nobody up there trying to miss a free throw in that situation. You might get frustrated by it and so do the players. We missed five out of seven in the last five minutes, five of our last seven, but that’s not an execution or an effort thing. And so I don’t want Dwight getting down about it, and there’s nothing I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that he’s not going to get down about it. I know he feels badly about missing them, but you know what, players even more so than coaches, they’ve got to have themselves in a position where they clear their head and are ready to bounce back and play a game on Sunday. For whatever reason, Dwight is a guy with his demeanor and everything that a lot of people in the media have chosen to criticize, but if he gets criticized on that comment, personally I think that’s ridiculous.
Q. Just wondering from a Laker perspective, they think, hey, they’re up three to one, they’re in control of this thing. Can you just talk about the fine line between winning and losing? A lot of people think you guys could be up 3 1 in this series right now.
STAN VAN GUNDY: Well, there’s always a lot of ifs. You have to deal with reality. We’re down 3 1. But as far as I don’t think there’s anyone who plays, coaches or watches, commentates, writes in this league that doesn’t understand the fine line between winning and losing in this game. It is a very fine line. Obviously Game 1 was not a fine line, but every other game, it’s been a very fine line between winning and losing, and it’s what makes the business because it’s what makes the games exciting, and it’s also what makes them, when you lose them, so heart wrenching because it’s not a huge difference in a game. It’s all right there. I thought our guys put everything they could into that game last night, and my number one feeling after the game was I just felt badly for them. I felt badly for our guys. I thought they put a lot into that game, just like they did in Game 2 in LA. You feel badly for them after games like that. But I know they’ll bounce back and be ready to go on Sunday. I know our guys think they’re still in the series, and we’ll be ready to play.
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate the time this afternoon. This will conclude today’s conference calls with each coach.