I love the playoffs.
Of course I love winning in the playoffs far more than losing, but hopefully we'll have a chance for some of that. But either way, this long wait between Games 1 and 2 highlights one of the reasons I find the post-season so enticing: clarity.
The regular season is interesting with its ups and downs and variety of challenges. But even during the most focused of seasons it's kind of a big mush. Sure, you get really pumped to play the L*kers on Friday night but then it's off to Memphis on Sunday and Minnesota on Monday. What does that L*ker win mean once it's done and the excitement has worn off? What does it drive you to? Of course it's another notch in the win column but when it's game 39 of 82 even those become small and nebulous measurements. The game won't be the same two days from now. The opponent won't be the same. You're picking up "W's" like you were on your third plate at the buffet. "In theory this looks good, but I'm stuffed and I'm not exactly sure why I'm standing in front of this enormous slab of egg foo yung now. I just know I'm going to take a chunk out and then wander over to the mushroom chicken. At some point I'll eat it."
See, the playoffs are different than that. The window is narrowed. The focus is laser tight.
The Blazers, for instance, started the series with a seven-game time frame. After a home loss the biggest frame they can conceive of has shrunk by one game. You don't think about winning the series at this point. You just want to get it back to a Game 7 and see what happens. But even winning 3 of the next 5 is too long of a view, really. For all intents and purposes you're looking at Tuesday's game, period. Lose that and you're playing out the dregs of a losing series, cursing the owners for bumping these first rounds up to seven instead of leaving them at five. Right now it all rides on one game. You can't think any farther than that. It's crystal clear.
And even then, you don't think of the whole game. Everything is focused down to a couple of questions. How do we bother Yao without leaving everybody else open? How do we get a team-oriented offense running? What are we going to do in the first 12 minutes to make them different than the last first 12 minutes we played?
It's simple. It's direct. You could measure it with a plumb-line.
It's like an opera singer who's practiced 82 songs into his repertoire but now knows that he's going to be judged on just one of them. Now he's not rehearsing concerts. He knows the run in measure 36 is going to make or break him and he's honing it like never before. Hit it or go home.
There's a certain freedom in that confinement. Oddly enough, you only get it when you're behind in the series or tied going into Game 7. You get to shrug off everything else you were carrying. You don't even know Wednesday exists. All that weight, all your skill, everything you've practiced and played for, it's all concentrated on this right here. It's the freedom to be this and only this. How often do you get to do that in your life?
What a test. You can't duplicate this anywhere. And that's why playoff basketball is so good. That's why the wins are so delicious and the losses so soul-wrenching. This is why you play the game. This is why we follow the game.