Simple — don't let them win Game 1. If history has taught us anything about the Zen Master, it's that you can't give him a head start. Over the course of his career, Jackson is an astounding 47-0 in playoff series that he opens with a win.
So when his team opened with a victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, a fairly convincing one for that matter, you'd have to imagine that that left the Lakers' coaching legend feeling pretty confident.
Smooth sailing from here, right?
"I wish I felt that way," Jackson said after the Lakers' 102-89 win at the Staples Center in L.A. "I wish I could put it in the bank, so to speak. But we've got to play this out. We know this is a team that can make a multitude of changes, lineups, activities, capabilities. Their defense, at various points in the game, I thought was very effective. So we have a lot of work ahead of us. But it's nice to know that that's on our side."
Two years ago, the Lakers landed in Boston for Game 1 of the Finals. They got off on the wrong foot — they shot poorly, their bench gave them nothing and the Celtics surged to victory. Kevin Garnett had 24 points and 13 rebounds, Paul Pierce had 22 and a Willis Reed Finals moment (wheelchair and all) and the Celtics won by double digits.
But this time, it was the Lakers' turn to open the Finals with a convincing win at home. And to these Lakers, that means everything.
"It's ultimately important," Jackson said. "But then every game becomes the next most important game, you know how that goes. But you know, this first game sets the table, and that's important."
You can tell from watching this Lakers team operate that they're not content just to win this one game. They don't want to settle for a split in L.A. — they want to pile it on. They don't want to give Boston an opening to get back into this series. After what happened in 2008, they can't afford to give the Celtics any breathing room.
"At this point, the important thing is to win every game," said Kobe Bryant, who scored 30 in Game 1. "A good start is absolutely the key. You want to take Game 1, and now that we did, it's Game 2. You want to win Game 2. And so on, and so on. So it's not necessarily about having a great start, as much as it is trying to win the series."
As for the Celtics? This one stung. They're not focused on historical facts and figures, and they couldn't care less about being the answer to a Finals trivia question. But for a team that's elevated its play to such a high level throughout this postseason, it was painful to take a step back.
"It wasn't a typical loss locker room," Pierce said. "There were some angry people in there, and they showed it. But that's just the pride. The guys definitely have pride in there, and they don't want to lose the way we did. We can deal with losing because it's part of the game. You win games, you lose games. But we can't deal with it when we lose the way we did tonight. You look up, we're down 20. That doesn't sit well with me at all."
Turning Jackson's 47-0 into 47-1 will be a colossal task, and it won't happen overnight. But the Celtics have to find a way. They've fought too hard to give up now.
So how do they move forward from here? There's no easy answer.
"Well, we watch the film, and we learn from it," Pierce said. "That's all you can do. We go tomorrow and practice. We watch the tape, see what we can do a lot better. Obviously, there's going to be a lot of things we can do better."
Work ethic is on the Celtics' side going forward. So are passion, heart and championship pedigree.
But after Game 1, history favors the Lakers. From here, the Celtics have a lot of work to do.
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