DALLAS -- When the end came, the two-time defending champions looked like an aging boxer --confused, flailing and beaten.
And it was only the second quarter.
It would get worse.
The Los Angeles Lakers will look back at the last game of their championship reign and Phil Jackson's superlative coaching career and feel nothing but shame. If a close-out game of a playoff series is a gut-check, the Lakers registered empty. If responding to adversity is a reflection of the heart of a champion, the Lakers came up diminutive.
Fourteen minutes into the game, they trailed by five points. Less than four minutes after that, they trailed by 18. During a stretch of 2:57 in the second period, the Lakers were so inept that Jackson called two full timeouts and a 20. He might as well have thrown a white towel on the court and surrendered. It certainly looked like his team did. The Lakers were so far gone it was not even worth punching one of them.
|Lakers-Mavericks: Game 4|
The Lakers abdicated their NBA throne in a shockingly docile manner Sunday afternoon, succumbing to a Mavericks team that shredded every part of LA's game in a 122-86 blowout. Dallas swept the champs in four games and now awaits the winner of the Oklahoma City-Memphis series to determine who represents the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
"I don't think we played bad to start the game," Jackson said. "But in that second quarter, the roof fell in on us."
The Lakers were outscored 36-16 in the second period. They never seriously challenged after that. They were never closer than 19 in the third quarter and the 36-point margin of victory was the largest of the game.
In the last three years, the Lakers haven't lost often. They won nine consecutive playoffs series before Sunday. Their last loss was in the 2008 Finals in Boston, where they lost Game 6, the decisive game of the series, by 39.
When they lose, they leave no doubt.
"I think it will be more entertaining for everybody else to discuss us getting swept or the way we lost," guard Derek Fisher said. "But this doesn't feel any worse than just losing. Last time we lost our last game was 2008 in Boston and that was the sixth game [of the Finals]. It didn't feel better than this one and this one doesn't feel worse. They all felt the same way."
By the time the game ended, the Lakers had lost more than a series, however. They lost much of their class. During a 52-second stretch in the fourth quarter, Lamar Odom was ejected for bumping Dirk Nowitzki to the floor and Andrew Bynum was ejected for hitting Dallas guard J.J. Barea in mid-air on a drive to the basket. Barea crashed to the floor and was down for several minutes but eventually got up and continued playing.
"I wasn't happy with the way our players exited the game on Lamar's part and Andrew's part," Jackson said. "It was unnecessary, but I know they were frustrated."
|After being swept, Phil Jackson said 'this is my final game as coach.' (Getty Images)|
"I think it was more we were getting embarrassed," Bynum said. "They were breaking us down so I just fouled somebody."
Kobe Bryant had said after practice Saturday that he expected the Lakers to open the game strong and he led with his actions. He had 13 points in the first period and although the Lakers were down by four at the end of the quarter, they were competitive.
But the Mavericks defense may be the most improved in the league and was it at its best the last three quarters. Bryant had only four points after the first period and ended the game with 17 on a 7-of-18 shooting performance.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks disassembled a once-proud Lakers defense in a most thorough manner. Dallas has some of the best long-range shooters in the league and they were all at their best on Sunday.
Consider Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic. They were a combined 15-of-16. .. from 3-point range. The Mavericks attempted 32 3-point shots and tied an NBA record by making 20. Their 62.5 percent in 3-point shooting was better than what they made from two-point range, where they were 24-of-41 for 58.5 percent. Combined, they were 60.3 percent from the field.
"At the start of the game I thought we were all right," Bryant said. "But they jumped out on us in the second quarter and just made three after three after three. And we could never get back in it."
Terry was 11-of-14 from the field and 9-of-10 in 3-pointers and led Dallas with 32 points. Barea, who relentlessly attacked the basket, had 22 and Stojakovic had 21 as the Mavericks demonstrated their superior depth. Those were the three leading scorers and the Mavericks were so good that they needed only 17 points from Nowitzki on Sunday.
Again, the Lakers reserves were outplayed as they were outscored by the Dallas bench 71-28.
As always, Jackson was coy after the game when discussing retirement. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said he was dubious that Jackson would stay retired and said in a joking manner that Jackson would get bored.
"My belief is that he'll retire for a while," Carlisle said, "but I don't know how long you can go to Montana and meditate and smoke peyote, or whatever he does there. He's going to get bored, and I mean that in an endearing manner."
When that comment was relayed to Jackson, he said corrected Carlisle by saying, "First of all, you don't smoke peyote."
But later, Jackson said, "There's a point when you feel like there's a group of young people that are coming this direction -- young coaches that are coming up. They deserve their chance and I've had a great opportunity and a 20-year run here with coaching teams."
It seemed fitting that the day of Jackson's last game, the NBA announced that he had been fined $35,000 for comments he made about officiating on Saturday. But, as usual, he had the last word.
"I go out with a sour note after being fined $35,000 this morning by the league," he said. "So that's not fun, having a feeling like I've been chased down the freeway by them. But as Richard Nixon said, 'You won't be able to kick this guy around anymore.'"
On Sunday the Mavericks chased the Lakers down the freeway and Phil Jackson and his 11 championships out of the game. His memory of his final game, however, will be how he got kicked around by his own team.