The NBA’s regular season games and playoff season games are a tale of two different stories. The playoffs are what separate the men from the boys; the Kevin Garnett’s from the Pau Gasol’s.
During the playoffs, we talk a lot about being clutch, but the word clutch is only applicable for superstars like LeBron James, not Udonis Haslem. Now, whether they superstar is actually clutch or not, is another story, but clutch isn’t a word that is applicable to role players, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry exempted.
Mental toughness, however, is something that every NBA player can have – superstar or not.
Players that are mentally tough can make an impact on the game even when they’re not playing well. Players like Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Rajon Rondo rise to the occasion during the playoffs to become Mental Giants. Pressure doesn’t deflate them, but it inflates them.
And then there are players who are mentally weak. These types of players get overwhelmed by the crowd noise, can’t make the same shots that they were making in the regular season, and fail to make an impact on the game on offense and defense. Players like Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Matt Bonnor, and Amare Stoudemire, shrink into Mental Midgets during high pressure situations.
What the San Antonio Spurs have proven is that no matter how well a player may perform in the regular season, they may completely disappear in the playoffs.
Danny Green, who was the starting shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, was relegated to the bench for the past two games and only saw the court for a total of 8 minutes. In a recent tweet, he said “If....only if…wuda hit a shot, mighta been a diff series...suppose to b a shooter n doesn't show up on the big stage smh”
The pressure of the playoffs crushed Danny Green into a mental midget.
Stephen Jackson, on the other hand, hit 6 of 7 three pointers yesterday. If I read his lips right, I could've sworn he yelled out, "We ain't going nowhere!" to the OKC crowd after one of his 3's. Jackson, who is on every journalist's all-interview team, "makes love to pressure." The playoffs are what Stephen Jackson lives for. The regular season is nothing but a rehearsal. The playoffs, however, are his live theater.
The road to the Finals is war. And there are some players that you want to be in the trenches with and some you don’t. In a NBA culture filled with fake tough guys, lots of floppers, and a ton of whiners, you want guys that you would handpick to be on your team, if you were faced with an elimination game; men with inner-fortitude and basketball acumen. These components are just as important as how high someone jumps, how well they can shoot, and how fast they can run the forty.