By Tim Hardaway, a former 14-year NBA All-Star whose column below was featured on SportsBlog.com, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes
You can’t just come into the playoffs—or the Finals for that matter—and play like you would in the regular season. There is a lot that goes into the playoff mentality, and it’s not something you can teach. I can share my own experiences with players until I’m blue in the face, but until you experience the magnitude of those games for yourself, you can’t possibly get a full understanding of what I’m saying. Once you do get there, you understand.
First of all, the foul situation is different. The refs are letting you play, bang, push and shove a little bit more. And if you don’t play as hard as you can each and every second of every game, you will lose. You can’t take a night off. Every game is important and every possession is important. You just can’t turn the ball over, especially down the stretch, thinking that you’re going to get a steal. No. Good teams go down and capitalize on your turnovers. Every game is different because each team is tweaking and making changes as the series goes on. But you have to understand what your opponent is going to adjust to when, for example, you beat them on a particular set about three or four times. That’s all part of the learning experience of playoff basketball.
And while it was a good season for the Pistons, I do think our lack of playoff experience showed when we went up against the Cavaliers. They brought it to us every night. But our guys played hard every night. We didn’t quit. We took it down to the wire each and every game. We competed very well and our guys should hang their hats on that. We played against the team that may win the championship this year. We are all very proud of this team and I think they are proud of themselves. They understand what it takes to be an elite team in this league, and I think that our success this year will carry over to next year, especially as they improve their games and prepare to take it to another level next season.
Two teams that do not lack playoff experience are the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although, last year was really Kevin Love’s first time making the playoffs, and then he got hurt in the first series. But he’s been working so hard to get back to this year’s playoffs, and he’s playing well. He’s up and down, but he understands that he doesn’t always have to score. Sometimes he just needs to rebound, play defense and do other things. I was with LeBron James in Miami and I saw how he played. That man is the real deal.
Both teams have a ton of experience. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to making adjustments, who makes their shots and who does not turn the ball over at the end of the game. I’ll tell you this: if OKC had made half of the their shots in the paint, they probably would have won Game 7. They missed so many shots around the rim and it came back to bite them. There’s no question that every single player on these two teams will need to play their absolute best. And the team that plays their very best basketball will win this championship.
So here comes my prediction: I’m a Golden State Warrior for life. I played there, I love those fans and I love what the team is doing. I’m not going against them. I’m going to say the Golden State Warriors win it in seven games. The Cavs have a great team, but I think that Golden State has just a little bit more.
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