So the original question posed to Lakers coach Phil Jackson was, “How do you define your team’s toughness?” His response, which included what may or may not have been a jab at the poster boy for the Celtics’ aggression, Kevin Garnett, is now both fuel and fodder for the buildup to Game 1 of the Finals Thursday night.
Jackson defined his team’s toughness by comparing it to the Celtics’, the team that essentially bullied the Lakers during the Finals in 2008. But Jackson used the Celtics-Magic matchup – particularly Garnett’s encounters with Dwight Howard – to form his argument.
“We don’t have a smackdown mentality,” Jackson said. “He was smacking Howard’s arm and finally he was called for an offensive foul. That’s not our team. We don’t go out there and smack people around.”
Word got to Garnett this afternoon before practice, and he offered a “no comment.” When pressed about it, Garnett laughed it off, and said, “I think nothing of it. It’s just Phil playing mind games. It’s all good.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, however, was flattered.
“We just thank Phil for the compliment,” Rivers said. “That’s very nice of him to say.”
In fact, considering Jackson’s track record for playing mid tricks with marquee players, Rivers said Garnett should be flattered, too. Former Globie Baxter Holmes wrote about the digs Jackson took at Steve Nash before the Western Conference Finals. Then, there was that time before the first round series against Oklahoma City when he pretty much reiterated what Garnett said about Kevin Durant. There was also that time in 2006 when he said Dwyane Wade travels like a mad man.
“I think he picks the best player on the other team or who he thinks is key so Kevin should put that right up there with his MVP trophy,” Rivers said. “I think Kevin should be excited about that.”
As far as how he characterizes the Celtics’ defense, which has been practically impenetrable in the postseason, Garnett said, “I think part of defense is being physical. Definitely being firm. You’re playing physical guys like Shaq and Dwight Howard, [Andrew] Bynum, you’ve got to hold your ground. You’ve got to find some way to absorb it the best way you see fit. Our style is just firm, consistent and there’s a lot of communication.”
If that means they’re a smackdown team, Rivers said, so be it.
“Whatever got us here,” Rivers said. “We’re not hiding from who we are, and we’re going to be that. So that’s never going to change. We said it from Day 1. We are who we are. If you like us, cheer for us. If you don’t, complain. But we’re not going to change.”