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Sunday, June 6, 2010
47-0 is a trend, not a force field

By Henry Abbott

Phil Jackson
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Phil Jackson's playoff record is amazing, but not sorcery.

Phil Jackson is coaching a team that has won the first game of a playoff series.

This has happened 47 times before, and his team has never once gone on to lose the series. This is a favorite NBA fact, that is oft-repeated, and rightly so, as it's remarkable.

However ... let's be clear: If the Lakers beat the Celtics and win this championship, it will be because of the play of players like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the skillful building of the Lakers roster and the long, intelligent hours put in by the coaching staff. It will be because of made shots and tough defense. It will be because of teamwork and hard work, and all the little things that lead to victories in basketball at any level of the game.

It will not be because of some magic that tumbled out of a spreadsheet.

Jackson is a great coach who has coached great players. He has won an amazing 70 percent of the 317 playoff games he has coached -- 222-95 is one hell of a record.

And the way statistics work, it's impossible to win 222 out of 317 playoff game without happening to trip on some crazy records. If you were to sift through every one of those games, who knows what kinds of anomalies you would find. Maybe he's undefeated in games against teams with red jerseys, or games on Tuesdays after 8 p.m., or whatever else.

It just happens that this remarkable number -- this 47-0 oddity -- presents itself. It has happened that way in the past. That is not the same as being an ironclad rule going forward. Which is no comment on Jackson and the Lakers. It's a comment on historical records.

The point is, his teams do well because they are stocked with really good players performing at high levels. Spot them the first game, and they have never given up the series.

The Celtics' predicament is real -- they're trailing a great team, that is playing very well. But they're not extra far behind in this series because of this curio in Phil Jackson's record. He has no wizards' spell he casts only when his team is up 1-0.

The team that will win this series is the team that plays the best more of the time. Period. That may well prove to be the Lakers. But it won't be because of this record, and by all means it's worth playing out the rest of this series, because nowhere is it written in stone that things that start out 47-0 never end up 47-1.