I’m a mess. A stressed out, overworked, old man chair injury having, barely hanging on mess. All season I have used watching the Spurs as my out. My time to relax and ignore everything else. It was great. Until they started winning. All. The. Time. And then the playoffs happened.
Now, they are also stressing me out. As we get deeper into the playoffs, I get more and more nervous before each game. As the winning streak gets longer, as the national media starts to ooooo and ahhhhh over them, as the national media starts to predict great things for them, as I believe more and more, then the more nervous I get.
With Memorial Day weekend looming, a cancelled anniversary vacation opening time up, and then business partners arriving in town on Wednesday, I decided to line up a trip to see the Spurs-Thunder game two via a media pass (because I’m a big-time blogger as all 15 of you know). Call it a planned vacation day. When Tuesday finally rolled around, after the Spurs great comeback in game one, I was getting very nervous for game two. I’d be in the building. I might jinx the team with my presence. Yes, this is what I was thinking.
By the time I had made the trek from Austin, had lunch with friends, and got to the stadium I had been on the road for 4 hours. It was still only 5:00. A full three hours before game time and my stomach was churning a bit. It might have been the combo plate from Taco Garage, or possibly all the ice tea I drank. However, it was more than a little bit of nervousness for the game. In fact, I was getting a little twitchy about the game. I also knew I would be this way, which is why I got to the arena so early.
You see, the Spurs take the court exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes prior to tip-off (remember it was an 8:00 tip Tuesday) to begin their pre-game shooting activities. After the Silver Dancers finish their practice, a guy runs a dry mop over the floor, the coaches — first out was Sean Marks — trickle out, and then one or two players come out to get in their shooting. For me, it is meditative. You watch the same thing over and over. Pass, catch, shoot. Pass, catch, shoot. Mid-range baseline shots. Mid-range angle shots. Corner 3s. Angle 3s. Catch and shoot. Pump, dribble, pull. Catch pump, dribble, step back. Over and over. Player after player.
It happens every game. Whether the first game of the season or game two of the Western Conference Finals. The coaches and players do the same thing. They take the same shots. They come out to shoot in the same order. They talk. They clown. They laugh. They visit with other players. They play games. It’s always the same.
This is the Spurs Way. It is not happenstance that it is meditative for me. The Spurs treat every game the same. Whether the first game, the 30th game, or a playoff game. They do their work. They don’t change things up because playoff games are more important. They prepare for the tenth game of the regular season the way they prepare for the tenth game of the playoffs.
In addition to the assistant coaches, many you know like Jacque Vaughn, Chip Engelland, Chad Forcier, and Sean Marks; there are also a handful of ball guy types (they might also be called assistant coaches, but I’m not positive). The ball guy types play the role of defenders during shoot around. They jump at the players while they shoot. They put a hand in the face. They fly by on the side. They bump and bang. When the player is doing a pump and dribble, the ball guy flies by on the side like a defender biting on the fake, and the player shoots. They had also added a new wrinkle I hadn’t seen. They were bumping Danny Green on the hip and in the ribs as he shot. They were attempting to simulate the kind of contact you have to take when taking a shot in the playoffs.
Tuesday, the ball guys were doing their same things. They were talking trash to the players as they missed shots. They took abuse back as the players made shots. At one point, the coach — an assistant coach is always the passer — and two ball guys tackled and dog-piled James Anderson in the corner.
After about an hour of watching shoot around, chatting with Andrew of 48MoH, a quick howdy to Chip, and some schmoozing with other courtside characters; I was calm. All the stress and all the nervousness had faded away. It was back to being just a game. A game to look forward to watching.
A couple years ago, while answering a question, Malik Hairston really drove home how the Spurs preparation was meant to help the players relax and not get excited. He said the season was too long. You couldn’t get too up for one game or two excited about playing against any particular player. You wouldn’t be able to sleep if you did. You just do your work and focus on executing the game plan. That’s how he, and I assume all the players, approach each game.
It’s because of this approach that Pop can do what he did in between quarters three and four of game one. He told the guys, “Hey, I need a dose of nasty”. He told the guys they needed to bring just a little more than in the game before. He hadn’t given them a pre-game speech. I don’t know for sure, but I’ll be he didn’t.
Everyday from the very first day of camp, Pop has established the system. The routine. He doesn’t have to tell players that there is an important stretch of the schedule coming up. He doesn’t have to tell them there is a big game. They all get treated the same. This approach really pays dividends in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, when the pressure increases. When the craziness around the game increases. The players have their routine to fall back on. They have their system to make things seem normal. It’s working for them and it works for me. Thankfully, because otherwise I’d be a wreck.