When you talk NBA Playoffs with basketball ‘gurus,’ the issue of matchups will soon dominate the conversation. Yes, matchups on the court play a major role in postseason success.
Unlike the regular season—where better talent will be reflected in a team’s record over the course of 82 games—the NBA Playoffs require more from players and coaches. Coaches, a matchup in every game of the playoffs that matters, but people rarely talk about.
If matchups hold the importance we believe, the coaches should be part of any discussion. Coaches have to often find ways to counter unfavorable matchups. Other times an NBA coach will scheme their way into beneficial match-ups with the X’s and O’s. Many times situations dictate that adjustments happen during games.
No one can deny that coaching matters in the NBA Playoffs. So I’m putting down my list of the five best coaches in the 2010 NBA Playoffs.
career: 1,098-460 (71%)
post-season: 209–91 (70%)
The ‘Zen Master’ has rings coming out of the ying-yang, six if you're unfamiliar with my counting system. Jackson’s detractors will note, “he always has the best talent.” Guess what, most NBA Finals champions have great talent. Winning with that talent sets Phil Jackson ahead the coaching pack.
He’s the only active coach in the playoffs listed in the NBA’s Top 10 Coaches in NBA History list. He coached under another name on that list, Bill Fitch.
Jackson reigns as one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the game. The guy has mastered the Triangle Offense. He teaches it well, finding the right players who’ll make it successful. He can coach talented players, but also knows how to grow talent. People forget how long Shannon Brown has been awaiting his opportunity.
career: 736–362 (67%)
post-season: 102–63 (62%)
Coach Popovich owns four rings. He orchestrated the twin-tower duo of David Robinson and Tim Duncan with great success.
Popovich stresses fundamentals, team play and defense. His basketball pedigree includes coaching under Larry Brown. His leadership style clearly reflects his military background.
Popovich gets the most out of his players. Many times that includes their disdain for his harsh abrupt criticism of players not living up to expectations. He’s another guru of X’s and O’s, that when given the opportunity, can keep a game close enough to always have a chance to win.
career: 1,190–780 (60%)
post-season: 94-98 (49%)
You might see Sloan’s postseason record and think it’s a typo. Remember how long Sloan has been coaching. Jerry Sloan holds the distinction of being the longest tenured coach with the same franchise among all the major sports. That means he coached during the Jordan era, when lots of coaches had to eat playoff losses.
He knows how to win, and his 16 straight winning seasons are second-most all-time to Pat Riley. Sloan and Red Auerbach are the only two coaches in NBA history to have 10 straight winning seasons with one team.
He doesn’t own an NBA championship, but you can blame Jordan for that. Sloan comes from the same cut, as our first two coaches, stressing fundamentals, a commitment to defense and a proven team system—reference the Stockton/Malone era.
His experience allows him to get the most out his team. The Jazz will always be competitive in the post-season. Don’t be surprised to see the Jazz pull off an upset over the Denver Nuggets– no that’s not a prediction.
career: 1,089–885 (55%)
post-season: 100–89 (53%)
This one might be a little surprising. You either love Larry Brown or you hate him. No matter what side you fall on, he currently stands as the fourth-winningest coach in NBA history and he’s a Hall-of-Famer.
Larry Brown’s success comes from his ability to teach the game to his players. Larry Brown is known for his mantra, “Play the game the right way.”
That way means fundamentally sound basketball and a dedication to the defensive end of the court. It also means Brown improved every team he’s coached by an average of about nine wins during his first season with each franchise.
When you talk match-ups, Brown can get it done. With over 22 years of coaching, he can plan schemes, and draw-up plays for any situation.
He’s badly out manned in the first round. That said, I would still expect Brown and the Bobcats to take away two wins in the series, before succumbing to the Orlando Magic—that’s a prediction.
career: 386-270 (59%)
post-season: 35-37 (49% )
Rick Carlisle makes the list as my sleeper. Many will choose to put Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy in their top five. I’m going with Carlisle, partly on his history of winning, and the fact he comes from a great basketball pedigree.
As a player, he made the Celtics as a rookie. Many forget about his time as an assistant coach under Bill Fitch and Chuck Daly, both on the NBA list of Top 10 Coaches of all time. That doesn’t make him good by itself.
In his first job as a head coach he had a 61 percent winning percentage his first two seasons with the Pistons. He also squeezed in a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, along with two division titles.
As a first-year head coach with the Indiana Pacers, Carlisle coached the team to the NBA’s best record, winning 61 games—most in Pacers franchise history.
He’s back again, with another team, but producing the same results. He can match X’s and O’s with the best of them. Some think he can take the Mavericks all the way to an NBA championship. That remains to be seen, but winning it all would justify his rank in my top five.
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