|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Just when this Clippers-Warriors series felt ready to shift back to basketball and away from team ownership, Mark Jackson played a little transition game of his own, sending a not-so-subtle message to his own bosses that any thoughts of replacing him could be premature.
It's not as sordid or as scandalous as the controversy that has engulfed Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whose recorded conversations that were leaked over the weekend had the Clippers engaging in silent protests and coach Doc Rivers rethinking the remaining two years on his contract, until commissioner Adam Silver stepped up and used every resource at his disposal to banish Sterling.
With the Warriors, it's more of a typical coach/management split, a feeling that perhaps this relationship has run its course.
Hearing it talked about so candidly after an important win is most unusual, though. It was hard to ignore afterward.
It's OK; there wasn't much to like about Game 6 anyway. Both teams shot below 40 percent and were hampered by foul trouble. Stephen Curry was the only scorer with more than 20 points, but it took him 24 shots to get his 24 points. That was much more efficient than Blake Griffin, who scored 17 on 24 shots. Griffin fouled out and so did teammate J.J. Redick, as well as Golden State's David Lee.
"It wasn't a very well-played game by either team," Rivers said.
It was a tough night for the officials, too, who wanted to let 'em play, then tightened up the calls after Glen Davis rammed into Jermaine O'Neal, who had to be helped off the floor with what the Warriors called a sprained right knee.
Golden State won 100-99, thanks in large part to Draymond Green's well-balanced stat line of 14 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and five steals, in addition to stellar defense on Griffin. The Warriors prevailed in a similar fashion to their victory in a foul-plagued Game 1, and it was an innocent question about the similarities that led Jackson to turn his postgame news conference into a campaign speech.
"I know there are people that want to speed up the process," Jackson said. "This is who we are. Part of the process is going through things, learning how to be consistent. I'm proud of my guys. It's been an incredible, incredible ride. Now against a three seed with two of the top 10 players in the world and a future Hall of Fame coach, we are going to Game 7 in spite of all the sideline music, and I like my chances because I've got a group of guys that want to do whatever it takes to win."
That sideline music is a house mix of rumblings throughout the coaching community that Jackson's job is almost up save anything less than a championship, that the two assistant coaches tossed overboard late in the season represent him bailing out water on a sinking ship. The music comes despite a 51-win season and now a 3-3 playoff series, despite a harmonious chorus of support coming from the locker room.
Jackson said what he did at the podium because none of the people in the hallways ever say it for him. By people in the hallways, that would be owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, general manager Bob Myers and executive board member Jerry West, who can be seen in the crowded corridors between the Warriors' locker room and the court, but aren't heard from whenever there are chances to pause and reflect on the team's accomplishments under Jackson.
The "speed up the process" line was a reference to the accelerated timetable espoused by Lacob. And the effusive praise for the Clippers was a reminder of what the Clippers are up against. For added measure, Jackson reminded the world of his arms deficit before the game when a questioner used Michael Jordan in a comparison to Curry.
|Stephen Curry is no Michael Jordan, but his 24 points did help Golden State force a Game 7 trip back to Los Angeles.|
"I appreciate the question, but this just in: Steph Curry is not Michael Jordan," Jackson said. "He's not my Michael Jordan, he's not anybody's Michael Jordan. At the end of the day, Michael Jordan is a [6-foot-6] freak athlete, tremendous strength, cat-like quickness, the ability to maneuver, get to his posts and, in spite of great defense, shoot over them."
In other words, stop trying to act like the Warriors have one of the best players in the history of the game on the team.
Jackson's roster is reduced by the absence of the injured Andrew Bogut, and might not have O'Neal for Game 7 (or beyond) after O'Neal's knee injury.
The group that's left, with some funky lineups and some "there's no tomorrow" decisions by Jackson to leave guys in at the risk of fouling out, grinded out the victory.
And no, there isn't a sense in the locker room that Jackson is making this about himself. The players are making it about Jackson.
"It's our season on the line; it's a lot of stuff on the line," Green told CSN Bay Area in an on-court interview right after the game. "We're gonna go battle for each other, we're gonna go battle for Coach."
After Green had showered and changed and let his adrenaline slow down, the message stayed the same.
"We hear the same things as everyone else," Green said. "We love him and we support him."
An emotional O'Neal, contemplating the possible end of his career because of the knee injury, said: "It bothers us. I'm not going to lie. We won 51 games and there's a lot of conversation about a new coach before the season's even over with. It does bother us."
"I love them," Jackson said. "I've said from day one, I want to know them as people. I want to know their families. I want to know their interests. I want to help them. No matter which way it goes, mission accomplished."
As well as season extended. And point made.