DALLAS (AP) – Phil Jackson walked off the court with a tight smile, shaking hands and accepting congratulations like he has after so many series-ending playoff games.
Never like this, though.
His team didn’t win; they were crushed. Swept, too.
And he wasn’t just heading to the offseason — he’s calling it a career, ending the most successful run by any coach in NBA history.
Jason Terry and the Dallas Mavericks ended Jackson’s tenure, and the Lakers’ reign as two-time champions, with a 122-86 victory Sunday. After two tight finishes and another game that was relatively close, the Mavs turned this one into a rout in the second quarter.
With Terry leading the way, Dallas hit a barrage of 3-pointers to go ahead by 24 points at halftime. When he made 3s on consecutive possessions early in the third quarter, Los Angeles knew it wasn’t going to come back in this game or the series.
Things got ugly early in the fourth quarter, with vicious, frustration-fueled cheap shots by Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum getting them ejected 45 seconds apart. But at game’s end, Dallas coaches, players and team owner Mark Cuban lined up to bid farewell to the Zen Master.
“It’s been a wonderful run,” Jackson said.
The 65-year-old Jackson has retired before, but he insists it’s for good this time. While he goes out with the sour taste of his first sweep in 21 postseasons, and his second-widest margin of defeat, it can’t override all the sweet days.
A Hall of Famer since 2007, he leaves with a record 11 titles, and only 10 series losses. Take away Red Auerbach, who won nine championships, and Jackson won more titles than any two coaches combined. He won six championships with Michael Jordan, three with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, and the last two with Bryant leading the way.
He had to be talked into coming back this year. The lure of chasing a 12th title, bundled neatly as four three-peats, did it, but he knew it would be tough with a team worn down by three straight years of reaching the finals.
“(That) puts a lot of strain on the basketball club from all angles: personalities, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and getting charged up for game after game and assault after assault when you go in and play a team,” Jackson said. “It was a challenge bigger than we could beat this year.”
Four of Jackson’s five kids flew to Dallas for this game, in case it was the end. On Saturday, Jackson called that “a drag that I don’t need,” but by Sunday afternoon he was probably happy to have them around. They sat near the Lakers bench, wearing yellow hats with Roman numerals marking his 10th and 11th championships.
Then there was his extended family — his coaches and players, especially Bryant.
“I grew up under him,” Bryant said. “The way I approach things, the way I think about things — not only basketball, life in general — comes from him. It’s a little weird for me to think of what next year is going to be like.”
Assistant Brian Shaw, a former Lakers player, is considered a front-runner to take over. The bigger decisions for general manager Mitch Kupchak will be how to surround Bryant. He may want a younger point guard than Derek Fisher, who turns 37 before next season, and he may consider breaking up his tandem of 7-footers, Bynum and Pau Gasol.
“We all know they always come back and get themselves back in the race,” Jackson said. “The Lakers are going to survive.”
For Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, clearing this hurdle sets them up for a chance to redeem themselves for flopping during the 2006 NBA finals and for flaming out in every postseason since. That’s why when this game ended, confetti didn’t fall; the organization’s bigger goal is reaching the finals and winning its first championship.
They’re halfway there, having won a franchise-record six straight playoff games, a streak that began right after they blew a 23-point lead in Game 4 of their first-round series against Portland.
“The job is not finished,” Terry said.
Dallas will host either Oklahoma City or Memphis in the conference finals. The Grizzlies lead the Thunder 2-1 going into Game 4 on Monday night. The next round likely won’t start before next Sunday, a layoff that could pay huge dividends for a roster filled with players in their 30s.
Then again, they might want to keep playing the way they’re going.
Terry tied a playoff record with nine 3-pointers, and the club matched NBA postseason marks with 11 3s in the first half and 20 for the game. Dallas made 63 percent of its shots from behind the arc (20 of 32) and 60 percent of its field goals (44 of 73).
“I don’t think I’ve seen a team play to that level in a series in a game like they played this afternoon,” Jackson said. “You’d like to have an opportunity to challenge, but we didn’t.”
Terry made 11 of 14 shots for 32 points. J.J. Barea set a career playoff-best with 22 points and Peja Stojakovic added 21 points. All three of those guys come off the bench.
“We’ve been doing it by committee all year long,” said Nowitzki, who scored 17 points, his fewest this postseason. “There are a lot of guys who can make plays and make shots when it counts.”
Nowitzki was still in during the fourth quarter and took the blindside blow that led to Odom’s ejection. Then Barea took a Bynum elbow to the ‘M’ on his Mavericks jersey while up in the air after releasing the ball for a layup. Fans threw things toward the court and officials scrambled to keep the peace. Bynum took off his jersey and was escorted to the locker room by Ron Artest, of all people. Artest was suspended from Game 3 because of his shot on Barea in the closing seconds of Game 2.
“I wasn’t happy with the way our players exited the game, on Lamar and Andrew’s part,” Jackson said. “It was unnecessary, but I know they were frustrated.”
The Lakers blew big, late leads in Games 1 and 3, and came in talking about cleaning up their fourth-quarter performance. They never got that far.
The second quarter proved to be one of the most spectacular in Mavericks history, thanks mostly to Terry.
He was 5 of 6 from behind the arc that period, and the team was 7 of 8 — despite Jackson’s repeated demands that his players run at them to try forcing them to dribble up for 2-pointers instead of 3s. The Mavericks had a run of 13-2 early in the quarter and 10-1 spurt at the end.
Bryant couldn’t bail his club out. He made only 1 of 5 shots in the period and had two turnovers. His only basket came after shoving Barea away from him; the pesky little point guard got even right away, driving straight to the rim for a layup.
Bryant finished 7 of 18 for 17 points. Shannon Brown was Los Angeles’ next-best scorer with 15. Pau Gasol’s lost postseason continued, too; he had 10 points and eight rebounds.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)