First off, let me start by saying that I have the utmost respect for Coach Terry Stotts. I think that he embodies all of the characteristics you could possibly want from an good outstanding head coach…except one.
That would be the "never-say-die, never-say-quit, we-are-like-the-zombies-from-Walking-Dead-never-ever-ever-ever-ever-ever-going-to-stop-coming-after-you" attitude that his players possess.
Personally, I must admit, that I was extremely saddened by what I saw in those last 3:05 of the Western Conference Semi-Final and I saw those minuted playing out a little bit differently in my mind’s eye.
Sure, there was only 3:05 left on the clock and we're down by 18. However, as an outstanding coach and leader, you must use every meaningful situation that comes your way to your advantage, especially when that situation is highly leveraged to expedite the growth and development of your young team. In particular, you're starting five. That "situation" was at the 3:05 mark of the fourth quarter of Game 5, an elimination game, in the 2014 Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Terry Stotts missed a prime opportunity to galvanize his starting unit and to further instill the value, belief, attitude and identity of "we never, ever quit" into his squad. During a highly-emotional, highly-visible time (a moment that had the potential to deeply entrench that value, belief, attitude and identity even more into the psyche of our young team) Coach Stotts, unbelievably, decided to pull his starting five out of the game with 3:05 left to go in the fourth quarter and emptied his bench.
Message? San Antonio, here is your white flag. We surrender. We quit.
True, we were down 18. Sure, we were playing the Spurs. Yes, it was in their building.
And, If I’m Stotts, I do respect all of those factors; however, as the coach (and leader) of my team, I also respect the abilities and capabilities of my extremely talented starting five. Even more important, I believe in my guys and their abilities and capabilities and I would make sure that they knew that.
At that point in the game, we had just watched our team (one of the most offensively potent teams in the NBA, by the way) make four buckets in a row (or was it three?) One of which was a Damian Lillard ice-special. (You know? His patented lunge-quickstep-three-feet-behind-the-three-point-line-Dame-game-Subzero-team-killer-thiller-die-Die-DIE-Fatality threes?) I have watched every Blazer game this season and when I see Lillard hit that three at that time in the game, I know that there's at least two or three more coming right behind it. (Okay, of course I don't really know, but I feel really, really confident that there is, at least, a distinct possibility that it could happen!)
My point is, if I'm Terry Stotts, when I'm in the huddle at the 3:05 mark of Game 5 (our "do-or-die" game, our "possibly last game of the season" game, our "quite possibly the last 3:05 we have left in our season" game!) I would be urging/telling/demanding/pleading/begging/reasoning/whateveritstaking that our team go out and end this game with pride. To go out and give it everything we’ve got, to lay everything on the floor and, if the fates conspire against us, to go down in a burning blaze of glory. (Pun most definitely intended.)
I would look my guys right in the eyeballs and say, "Look! We’ve already made it further (or is farther or is both?!) than anyone else even thought possible. Farther than any one possibly expected for us to go up to this point. We've already accomplished a 21-game improvement, we witnessed the miraculous in the first round with Dame's killer fadeaway three that not only ended the game, but ended the damn series! We've already exceeded every expectation laid upon us this year by leaps and bounds. And as a result, we knowwe can surmount any challenge before us. I’ve seen us do it time and time again.
"So I ask you all right now?! Why not shatter those expectations just a little bit longer?"
Looking squarely at Wes, nodding appreciatvely, "Why not us?!"
A steely gaze to each of my players. I ask again.
"Why…not…us?! We go out and we give it our very best, we give everything we’ve got. We have 3:05 left! And if we fail? If we lose? Well, at least we walk off the court with our heads held high and with dignity on our faces. At least we know that we left everything on the court. Win or lose, no one can take that from us.
"Sometimes it's not about winning and losing, it's about playing with heart, playing to the absolute best level you can possibly play. Gentlemen, we have 3:05 left to play the best damn basketball of our lives. To play at our highest level individually and as a team. A new level. The next level.
"If a win doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but you know what? The world will see that we never quit. No matter what the odds. No matter what the situation. We…never...quit. So, let’s do this, let’s go out there and play to the highest possible level that we can possibly play.
"We have 3:05 to take as many three-pointers as we need to to cut that lead down from 18 to 0. Every chance we have, every opportunity we see - if there is a sliver of light - you take that three point shot. You all are some of the best clutch three-point shooters in the league. I want is to get up as many three-point shots as we can possibly get up in the next 3:05 of this game. LA, that includes you too.
"On the defensive end. Get low, talk and be a unit. Play physical, don't reach, but get in there with your body. Make the officials make the call. Put the onus on them. Regardless of the outcome, nobody can say that we didn't go out without a fight, without giving 100% of our effort the entire 48 minutes of this game.
"Forget the stats. Forget the odds. Just go out and play with every fiber of your being. Who knows? We may even end up surprising some people. We may even write a new chapter in NBA history books! Remember our sum is greater than our parts and we can only achieve an outcome if we really believe it can be achieved. I believe. Play as team, play unselfish, hit those threes and get defensive stops. Get the 50/50 balls. Hustle harder than you ever have before. And, above all, respect the game and play like this is very damn well the last 3:05 of our season."
Or something to that effect.
Now, I am a rational person (though, admittedly skewed optimistic) and I realize that the probability of actually winning the game has got to be some astronomically low number when down by 18 with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter against the number 1 seeded team in the NBA on their court (I'm sure someone hear on BE will let me know!) Trust me, I completely understand, respect, and accept all of those factors.
But, here's my issue...
Unfortunately, we will never know.
We will never know if we could have done something that has never been done before in the history of the NBA.
Odds be damned. Critics be silenced. Naysayer be dumbstruck in awe. We lost this opportunity to create a "moment." Much like the "moment" Lillard created in Game Five of the Houston series. That "moment’ that anchored the intangible value, belief and attitude and identity known only as "clutchness" into Lillard’s psyche and persona in the eyes of the world. At this point, I trust Lillard taking the last minute shot to win the game (series?!) over every other player in the association. Why? Simple…because he’s already done it.
So, how did we "lose" this opportunity? Because Coach Stotts took it away. He vanquished virtually any chance (no matter how remote) of a comeback from even happening when he pulled the starters out of the game in the last 3:05. The last 3:05 of the close-out game in the 2014 Western Conference Semi-Finals round between the Spurs and Blazers. Instead of fighting and going down with pride, heart and chutzpah (thus further embedding the identity of never-say-never into our starting five and into our team) we see our team sit, on national television, with their heads in their towels and disappointment painted across their faces.
Not the way I would want my guys to go out.
Now, I'm not saying that this year has not been a great success for the team, because, obviously, it has been. And I definitely meant what I said before about this team exceeding all expectations up till this point and me respecting Coach Stotts. In fact, the underdog, we never-say-die, we never quit, we never-say-never attitude and identity that is driven this team all year long was the very reason why I love this team, why I respect Stotts and why I was so excited to see those last 3:05 of the game. I wanted to see how our team (the starting five) ended that game. I thought we could (would?) make some kind of run. Put some fear (or at least doubt) into the Spurs, their fans and the viewing public. I thought we would end the season (win or lose) owning and rooting our "never-say-never" attitude even further into this team’s psyche. Hell, you never know, we may have even been able to pull a Houdini. (Thank Mr. Harlen!)
Unfortunately, we will never now.
So...how did we end the season then you may ask? Well, in a word: quitting.
Yep. We quit. At precisely the 3:05 mark of the 4th quarter of Game Five (an elimination game) of the 2014 Western Conference Semi-Finals, we quit. That "we never-say-die" identity, that "we-never-quit" mentality, that "we-never-stop-coming-at-you-no-matter-what" attitude we’ve seen all year…gone. Evaporated like so much water on a hot summer's day.
Too bad. Stotts could have used those last 3:05 to good advantage and reinforced a value, belief, attitude an identity that could have further developed this Blazers team and provided, perhaps, a profound impact for years to come on these young men as they strive for NBA hardware..
Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
Even if they lost, the identity of "never-say-die" would still be bestowed upon this team by the fans, the critics, and the national audience. Those 3:05 may have proven to be a perfect time to teach an extremely valuable lesson to the guys on the team. One that could have had an impact on them for years to come. Never, ever, quit! The chemistry on this years squad is fairly renowned by knowledgeable fans and I’ve seen enough of this team this year to know that I will never, ever count them out. Ever.
That’s why you play your starter’s those last 3:05. Terry!! You give them the opportunity to own that "never-say-die" attitude. You give them an opportunity to go out battling to...the…very...last...second…of…the…game… An inspirational come-back in a do-or-die game (even if it fails) could’ve held some prime development seeds for future cultivation on this team. Those 3:05 could have been used, at worst, as the platform for developing your team in a pressure situation or, at best, the spring board for an amazingly new moment in the annals of NBA history.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
We never even got the opportunity to...find...out. Bad move by Stotts. Stotts' Fail.
The good news is, I believe that leadership is a learned skill, much like riding a bike. And with this season, the experiences and the new steps (leaps?) the team made towards being championship-caliber, every aspect of our team is going to only grow and benefit from this year. Every aspect. The organization. The players. The coaches.
And especially Coach Stotts.
As I said before, I have the utmost respect for Coach Stotts. I just hope the next time he's in a situation like this (and I really do hope that they are ever so rare), that he maximizes it, as an outstanding coach does, to promote the values, beliefs, attitudes and identity that he wants his team to accept, adopt and embody to achieve it’s main goal - becoming a team capable of winning a NBA championship.
The values, beliefs, attitudes and an identity associated with the ideas of "never-say-die," "never stop," "never, ever walk off the court with our heads slumps between our shoulders (or in our towels!)", and "never quit," define who we want to become as a team. What better time to continue these maxims then (especially?!) when your down 18 point with 3:05 left of the fourth quarter in the 2014 Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Even if we lose, we still walk away with our heads held high because we know that we gave it everything we had.
Unfortunately, we will never know.
Why? Because "we" cannot, literally, give it everything "we" have if "we" are not on the court with 3:05 left to play.
And this is where I believe Stotts failed as a coach, a leader and a mentor.
(disclaimer: personally, I believe "failures" are opportunities to grow and nothing more. The term "failure" holds no negative connotation in my mind. I realize that others will not see it this way and I respect that. I also realize that the the term "failure" is more polarizing than other terms and I used it for that purpose as well.)
I just think that the gist of my aforementioned inspirational last stand should have been the message that Stotts delivered to his guys in that critical moment at 3:05 of the fourth quarter of Game Five (an elimination game) in the 2014 Western Conference Semi-Finals.
I would point out every miraculous outcome (Dame’s "Houston, we have a problem" Thrilla-Killa-Three in Game 5) we have accomplished already during the season! I would point out that we just made four buckets in a row (I believe it was 4, maybe 3?) and that we're primed for an explosion of points. I would point out that the massive firepower on our team can obliterate an 18 point deficit in a matter of minutes (3:05 to be exact.) And I would point out every shred of evidence I could think of to convince those guys that they could, indeed, come back and win this game.
I would make sure that every single one of those guys knew that I truly believed in them and that Itruly believed that we could win (because I would)...
...perhaps if they see the strength of my belief, the convictions of my faith, the unconditional trust I have in them and their abilities...
then perhaps they will come to believe as well. And...
…if they believe it can happen? If they believe that they can come back and win? Then what once is seen as impossible becomes possible. A slim possibility to be sure, but still one nonetheless. And...
…as a coach, when I see my team believe that they can conquer the odds, that they believe they can alter history, that they believe they are unstoppable...Well, then I will have done my job as their coach. I will have inspired my guys to shove aside their doubts, smash through their fears and reinforce the belief...
That "we never quit."
That we "never-say-never."
That we "never-say-die."
Who know? With that attitude, we may have made the game a bit more interesting. Might have even won.
Unfortunately, we will never know.
Coach Stotts never even made the opportunity available to his team. He lost, in my opinion, a great opportunity to help grow and expand his team during a key, highly-emotional, highly-visible moment. Particularly, in the mental and emotional arenas.
I know that to some, this post will come off as me bashing coach Stotts (which I am not) or waxing too dramatic/too hopeful/too optimistic/too
I sincerely hope that this writing comes across Coach Stotts’ desk one day and that he contemplates upon some of the things that are touched on here. Because, I think we all would agree that you cannot accomplish anything (great or small) if you don't first believe you can accomplish it.
And when Coach Stotts took our starting five out at 3:05 mark of the fourth quarter of Game Five (an elimination game) in the 2014 Western Conference Sem-Finals, he proved (unintentionally) that he does notbelieve. Deep down in his heart, he did not believe his guys had it in them to pull of the improbable. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have pulled them from the game in the last 3:05 of their season.
Personally, I just think that it was the wrong message to send to your team. Especially at such a pivotal moment in their careers. Stotts had a great opportunity to further condition an invaluable value, belief, attitude and identity into his team at a prime time. He didn’t leverage the situation, replete with high-emotion and the national spotlight, to the best of his ability in making his team better now and in the future. Instead of providing an opportunity for our guys to "leave it all on the floor," he let them languish on the bench in a blowout for the final 3:05 of an extremely important game - on the national stage.
In one fell swoop, Stotts skewed the identity of this team from the "underdog," "we never-say-die," "we never quit," "we never-say-never" identity to a "if-we-are-down-by-18-with-3:05-left-of-the-fourth-quarter-of-Game-Five-(an-eleminiation-game!)-in-the-2014-Western-Conference-Semi-Finals-we-do-in-fact-quit" identity.
Consequently, this is why I believe Stotts failed today as a coach.
I am not saying that I am or could be a better coach than Coach Stotts and I certainly don't claim to have near the basketball acumen that the man possesses. However, leadership is a skill that permeates all fields, industries and walk-of-life. In my opinion, when Coach Stotts reflects upon this past year and looks at key moments (failures?) where he needs to improve. I believe this moment should be the most important moment (failure) he focuses on and learns. You gotta believe in you players Coach Stotts at all times. And, especially during the last 3:05 of their fairy tale season!
Whew...Now that I got that off my chest, please let me be one of the first to congratulate the 2013–2014 Portland Trailblazers on having conducted one helluva season. I extend my respect to Coach Stotts, his staff, the players, the owner (thank you Mr. Allen!), the GM, President and all of the people in the PTB organization for making it happen. Honestly, this has been the most enjoyable year of Blazer basketball that I have had in many, many, moons. I haven't lived in Portland for almost 20 years, yet I feel more connected to PDX than ever thanks to this team!
That’s just awesome! Rip City is alive and well! I seriously cannot wait until next season!