Bruce Arthur: NBA glory takes heart and a steady hand
|Toronto Star 12 Jun 2019 at 18:58|
OAKLAND, CALIF.âMonday night in Toronto, Kyle Lowry had two shots at a championship. It wasnât just his potential series winner from the corner, which was partially blocked. Two minutes before that, with Toronto up 103-100, the Raptors point guard had a wide-open three from the right wing. Lowry had delivered a marvellous fourth quarter. Heâs a great shooter, and he wasnât afraid of it; he just came up a little short. Maybe he would have won a title at the buzzer if not for Draymond Greenâs fingertip. Weâll never know.
âIf Draymond doesnât get a fingertip on it and Kyle makes that three, then itâs the greatest play ever,â said Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet.
There were other moments that passed by, but more will likely come. The Raptors have played 23 playoff games this spring, and in every one but Games 3 and 6 in Philadelphia, and Game 2 in Milwaukee, a play here or there would have made the difference. Of the 23, they had a chance to win 20.
In Game 6 of the NBA Finals here on Thursday night â leading the series three games to two against the ragged, glorious ruins of whatever is left of the Golden State Warriors dynasty â some Raptors will take the biggest shots of their lives, under oceanic pressure. Every one will be a test of nerves, poise and will, and might decide a championship. What does it take?
âA willingness to accept the consequences of missing,â said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who hit the shot that won Chicago the 1997 title, among a long list of big shots. âUntil you get to that point, itâs going to be tough. So you have to go into it knowing that even if you are the best in the world, youâre going to miss half the time. If you can hit half your game-winning shots, thatâs a hell of a percentage.
âBut if you go into it thinking, âOh, man, I donât want to miss, itâs a big situation,â then youâre defeated already.â
Game 5 was the first time these defensive-minded Raptors had scored at least 104 points per 100 possessions in a playoff game and lost. With their season and dynasty on the line, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry hit Golden Stateâs 18th, 19th and 20th threes of the game. The Raptors still nearly won.
âAs far as stepping into those shots, we practise those every single day,â said Thompson, who might be the second-greatest shooter in history behind Curry, or thereabouts. âWe know what itâs like to take those, and we can live with the make or miss. Itâs just what it comes down to.â
But the Warriors, riven by injuries, are barely holding on. For the series on open threes, Kawhi Leonard is 7-for-21, Lowry 8-for-27, Pascal Siakam 2-for-15 (and 0-for-12 from three overall in his last four games), Danny Green is 9-for-25, Marc Gasol is 6-for-16, and Fred VanVleet is 10-for-27. If the Raptors make enough shots in one game, they will win a title.
â(It takes) probably just another higher level of focus,â said VanVleet, who has hit 54 per cent of his threes since emerging from a deep slump eight games ago. âI think that I found another step up of just trusting yourself and trusting your shot, and not getting swayed by the moment, and not changing your technique and not getting down when you miss a couple, or changing anything, or doing anything drastic.
âYou just trust the work, and the work is the only thing that it going to stay constant and remain steady the whole time. And the same form that you shoot with when you practise is the same that you have to go shoot with when thereâs a championship on the line.â
Gasol says he visualizes , and that if you are in rhythm those pressure shots are easier: You just need to trick yourself into staying in rhythm. Green said that being prepared to take big shots by the coaching staff in San Antonio taught him how to approach them, to be comfortable in that moment. Kawhi said he doesnât feel pressure, because he knows that life is a lot more serious, and can hurt a lot more, than just missing a shot.
Golden Stateâs Andre Iguodala hit the giant three to clinch Game 2; the 35-year-old is fighting through a pile of injuries and has not shot well in the series. But he has made those big shots before, and will step into them again. The way he looks at it sounds like the Zen of the NBA player. Think of that, when the pressure in Game 6 hits.
âFor me, itâs just clearing out the noise,â said Iguodala, wearing a hoodie with the hood up. âEven understanding it âŚ You understand that (the noise) isnât really about the actual game. Itâs about other things. And when you understand that, you can place everything in its proper places. It actually clears it out for you to embrace those moments. You know the work you put in, you know what youâre playing for â youâre playing for yourself, youâre playing for your teammates â and youâre thinking about that. And youâre not thinking about, you know, Iâm making a shot because itâs going to boost my ego, or itâs going to boost my following, or boost my brand.
How Steve Kerr and the Bulls won the title in 1997, with his big last shot in Game 6. Plus his thoughts at the Bulls championship parade in Chicago. Can t miss it...
âJust being comfortable in your own skin. And itâs harder and harder for athletes to be comfortable in their own skin. I think (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver talked about it. I mean, I got a hood on right now, and youâre going to see a lot more players with hoods on, you know. They shelter themselves. You know, youâve got that shield up because of whatâs involved in the games now thatâs not actually the games â everything thatâs around it, and big money behind it. Youâve got to be able to reflect and find time to be comfortable in your own skin. I just try to do that, and when youâre comfortable in your own skin, the mindâs clear and youâre able to perform at a high level.â
Itâs a profound statement, that idea of being comfortable enough with yourself in the noise, in the pressure, in the chaos, in the moment, after doing the work with a purity of intent and application, to the point where we started at. Knowing that the chance of a lifetime is riding on every shot, but stepping into that moment. The Raptors will have another shot at a title Thursday night. They canât be afraid to miss.