I am sitting here desperately trying to focus on software development instead of basketball, golf, yahoo comics, the lint on my sweater, pretty much anything but my work screen.
In theory, I should be hungry. Desperate. Focused. No paying gigs in two years (long backstory), Savings alarmingly low, great opportunities lying ahead of me if I can just motivate myself to make that extra push right now. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. Love software, love the challenge in solving frustrating problems, love that there is always something new to learn instead of repetitive tasks like millions of factory workers do every day. Yet, always the loss of focus. The constant lapses in attention. And no, Pounding The Rock does not help at all with its addictive awesomeness beckoning at every moment.
The problem is that things have been too good. Too easy. For years, my schedules combined with my knowledge and experience have given me more than enough time to complete the task. I got used to plodding and now my mind is having a tough time switching gears and developing that sense of urgency. Short bursts, yes, but then without realizing it there I am, plodding away with lots of internet breaks.
It was not always like this. Back in the early days I was sorely lacking in the skills and experience needed for this field, so would focus and cram and work with single minded intensity to overcome my shortcomings. And it worked. Fantastically. My projects always ended well, were consistently on time, and was often seen as the technical leader of the group. Now, I am just too knowledgeable and experienced to have to work that hard.
Yes, pretty obvious what my analogy is.
The Spurs are simply too good. They have a great system. Pop always takes care of his players, saving their minutes and their energy for when it matters, yet still wins a lot of games. The problem? They are used to plodding and conserving energy. Yes, they should flip the switch now that the playoffs are here, but it is not so easy to flip that switch. You are what you practice every day. Not want you want to be, or believe yourself to be, or what others say you are. You are what you practice. Every. Single. Day. The Spurs practice great basketball, but don't consistently play with great intensity any more. In the regular season that works, but how do you step it up when you need to?
As a side note, the Lakers have suffered from this for years; how they play down to the competition at times. They just have had overwhelming talent to make up for it, as well as a narcissistic leader that is completely driven to make himself look good no matter what. Sure, in theory the Lakers would be better with a more caring and sharing Kobe, but in practice? Who knows if they would have the drive. I hate myself for making that comparison, but it is there.
As another side note, this is an important lesson for everyone in real life too. You are what you practice every single day. You cannot coast for a while then expect to suddenly pick it up when it counts. You are happy and polite every day, that becomes you. You are hateful and rude every day. Well, that becomes you.
Already, enough self righteous preachiness. Back to basketball.
The mental switch from regular season to playoff can take time, which is why a playoff is better than just playing the best two teams. Sadly, the Lakers did not provide enough competition to help that process. Sure, the sweep was emotionally satisfying, but was simply too easy. Also, that miracle first win against Golden State may actually have made things worse. It fully confirmed that subconscious part of the mindset that tells them there is no urgency, just chill out and stop worrying.
What is the solution in the future? Who knows. The Spurs system wins regular season games too easily to build up that sense of urgency. Pop tries to make it interesting by playing weird lineups to light that fire, but subconsciously they just know that they can win. Some coaches build intensity by creating an "us against the world" attitude (Thibodeau right now), some players just constantly have a chip on their shoulder (Westbrook), but the Spurs don't play those games.
In the short term, hopefully that ugly loss will shock their mindset a bit. On the plus side, if we can get through this series it will have been dramatic enough to move that unfocused mindset along the correct path and the Spurs would be much better in the next series.
If we get there.
Other random notes:
- Tony Parker is key. No secret there. Trouble is, he has to find the right balance. I thought that in game one he was forcing too many passes at the start of the game instead of looking for his own shots. Game two he had great balance. Yesterday he tried to force his shot too much.
- As a general note, Tony is improving as a passer, but he just is not a natural born assist guy and does not have the court vision that Manu does. He has made a conscious decision to pass more and sometimes makes up his mind to pass before starting the play instead of just seeing what develops. Also, it seems to me that teammates miss a lot more shots when he passes to them than when Manu passes it. Not sure if it is timing, anticipation, or what. The passes look fine to me, but something is different. This is in no way an attack on Tony's character. It is admirable he is making a deliberate effort to learn how to pass better even though he is already a great scorer.
- The Spurs have to finish. Too often they go to a great deal of trouble to get a good shot off, but then are nonchalant about the shot itself. Don't just expect it to go in, finish the whole sequence and keep your focus all the way through. Yes, Tiago Splitter, but pretty much the whole team as well.
- Blair needs to play. He has worked hard to improve on his shortcomings. Well, except for height, he just refuses to grow taller. Otherwise, much smarter playing, better shooting, fewer risks, all while keeping up the much needed high energy attitude. Reward him.
- Why the hell is Neal playing so much? He cannot dribble or defend. Oh, because Tony is doing even worse on defense? Oh, ok, carry on then.
- What is up with Kahwi? Is it the long minutes now that SJax is gone? He is still a huge help, don't get me wrong, but is off just a little bit.
- Reduce the number of attempted threes in the fourth quarter. Please. Everyone gets worse at threes when they are tired. Yes, I know Manu won the game with one of those, but there have also been a lot of misses.
- Why is Mark Jackson touted as a great coach? I am not impressed so far. Constantly shouting clichés to your team will only work for so long. Every quarter he takes the worst stat and picks on it: rebound more, do the little things, make fewer turnovers. If you are telling your team to focus on everything, you are not really telling them anything. The ultimate to me was letting Curry stay out there after his ankle turned. WTF? Yes, it turned out ok, but why risk it? Stupid. But, he is in the second round of the playoffs so my opinion is probably completely wrong, so someone please explain it to me using small words so I can understand.
There is absolutely no reason for Spurs to lose even one more game. Golden State has a thin bench with some injuries, a so-so head coach and very little experience. If the Spurs can get halfway focused the games should not even be close. No disrespect meant to their gutsy players, Curry in particular is an incredible player, but they are still a thin team with injuries going up against the a team chock full of future hall of famers
So, here's to the Spurs gaining enough focus to win this series, then building enough intensity to play great the rest of the playoffs.
Go Spurs Go!