Try to remember what you were doing last year on May 23rd. I've tried, but I can't recall. What I'm sure of is that I wasn't writing a game preview for the Phoenix Suns. Maybe I wasn't even thinking about the Suns or basketball.
No matter what happens and how bitter, upset and depressed you might feel, keep in mind that The Suns were not even picked by the so-called "experts" to even be in the playoffs. We have witnessed how The Suns got an improbable 3rd seed in a very tough Western Conference. We saw them beat an inspired team in the first round who truly believed they could beat them. We jumped up and down in our living rooms every time The Suns would hit clutch shot after clutch shot whenever San Antonio made a run. We saw them sweep the Spurs and realized how hard it is to hate that team after listening to all their players give credit to our team and wish us luck. I've had a blast during this ride, but thankfully it's not over.
We are here. Granted, we are down 0-2 but we are here. If you are a glass-half-full type of guy, you might say that The Lakers did what they were supposed to do. They are the defending champs and there's no way you are going to let an underdog team beat you at home. Your job is to make sure you send a message. The message was delivered to the Suns and it's up to them to man up and rise to the challenge.
Unfortunately, I don't have experience in a 7-game series. Back in my playing days with the Panama National Team, it was win or go home. We didn't have the luxury to adjust strategies after getting beat. This is not a win or go home situation for the Sun,s since mathematically they would not be eliminated, but we all know that going down 3-0 against the champs would be disastrous.
So how do players and coaches prepare for these types of games? What will the Suns need to do to win this game and get back on the winning track?
I think I can answer those questions from a player's perspective. I'll focus on the mental aspect of the game that's constantly overlooked.
Join me after the jump.
Mentally Tough: "Understanding what's at stake"
Grant Hill said it best: "This is our World Cup, this is our Super Bowl."
It's important for players and coaches to understand that their season is on the line. Every team's goal is to reach the finals and have a shot at winning the Championship. You work hard since training camp and even in the off-season. Teams that reach the Conference Finals are extremely lucky to be there (no pun intended) and should embrace the opportunity, whether they are losing or winning.
The Suns need to get back to the underdog mentality and have fun out there. They are over thinking and self conscious of every move they make on the court. As a player, you have to understand what's at stake but at the same time understand that basketball is still a game. Go out there, leave your heart on the floor and have fun.
Mentally Tough: "Believe"
Facing a team that has beaten you badly in the past is not an easy task. Your morale can be down even before you put your sneakers on. The Suns can't allow this to happen or it will be over before tip off. Believe in your teammates, believe in yourself and believe in what you have done that's gotten you there in the first place. Believe that you can win and carry that swagger to the court.
During Game 1 of the Celtics/Cavs series, I saw Doc Rivers call a timeout. He was yelling at the players but specifically looked at Kevin Garnett while saying the following:
"Every single day you all got to go get the game. You got to go play basketball. Don't act like you are not supposed to be winning...we are supposed to be up. We are better. Act like it!"
Sometimes it's not about strategy. I'm sure Rivers could have drawn a play or made adjustments for the game. But what he saw in his player's faces troubled him even more than someone missing a defensive assignment.
The Suns are playing against the current champs and you give credit where credit is due. But if they truly believe that they can't beat the Lakers, then please don't even put the uniform on.
I won't talk about the adjustments that the Suns will make. You can read it in this post. They will try to keep things simple. They won't force the issue and they will let the game flow. That's the best thing I've heard so far.
I've made no secret that I think Steve Nash should be more aggressive. We need him and Amar'e to step up their games if we want to have a chance in this series. I've not seen Nash's "There's no way we are f*cking losing this game" face. One thing is to lose when you are playing at your best. You shrug and say you tried hard. Tip your hat to the other team and wish them luck in the Finals. What's left a bitter taste in my mouth this last couple of games is the fact that The Suns have gotten away from the things that have made them successful in this postseason. Credit the Lakers for causing this; they are the better team for now.
It's the Suns turn to be at home. For those of you who are going, scream your lungs out. Stand up and cheer. Your boys in Orange are still very much alive. Believe.