On most NBA rosters you will find several solid players.
Most of them become role players while a select few become stars. The typical NBA star is not born overnight, they usually develop over time. Some of them are considered regular-season warriors—good enough to put up big numbers yet, not good enough to lead a team to the postseason.
The others put their respective teams on their backs and lead them into contention.
They are stat-builders who contribute mightily to the wins and losses of their team. These players are created in the regular season but, they blossom under the playoff spotlight.
Every once in a while, players with limited experience are thrust into roles they were not prepared for. Also, there are proven players who, for some reason or another, struggle while the lights become brighter.
These are two different types of players with one common goal: win at all costs.
Unfortunately, they could either struggle with their shots, with turnovers and/or trying to stay out of foul trouble. If their circumstances were any different, the landscape of the NBA Finals would be, too. The Heat won the title but, had certain players been able to have a better postseason, another team would have been victorious instead.
The Bulls felt that this postseason would have a different ending than the previous one.
The 2011 NBA playoffs ended in a five-game defeat for the Bulls at the hands of the Heat. While leading the 76ers late in Game 1 Derrick Rose goes down with a torn ACL.
Enter C.J. Watson, Rose’s replacement.
Watson had played admirably for the Bulls while Rose sat out with an assorted amount of injuries. The transition appeared seamless. All Watson had to do was to lead the Bulls with mistake-free basketball. They were playing the eighth-seeded 76ers who barely made the playoffs.
Watson, in his five starts in place of Rose, averaged eight points and 5.6 assists while shooting under 25 percent from the field. The pressure of replacing Derrick Rose got the best of C.J. Watson.
In the regular season Watson had held his own, but it all changed while under the spotlight.
If you felt that the Knicks could challenge the Heat in their first-round playoff matchup, you were not alone. Amar’e Stoudemire felt the same way. If pressure bursts pipes, playoff pressure makes players break glass—literally.
Stoudemire broke a fire extinguisher case in disgust. This came after a 104-94 loss to the Heat.
No one will doubt the resume of one the NBA’s most popular players but, this situation raised doubts on Stoudemire’s place on the team.
He already was considered to be a bad fit for the Knicks once they completed the trade with the Nuggets to acquire Carmelo Anthony. In the wake of the playoffs, Stoudemire allowed more doubt about his place on a team that has not seen the second-round of the playoffs in eons.
All it took was for one major meltdown to prove that Amar’e Stoudemire was not ready for the spotlight.
Evan Turner is the epitome of a talented player who would benefit from staying quiet. Turner unceremoniously declared that his 76ers’ team wanted to face the Bulls in the first-round of the playoffs.
While defeating the Bulls as Turner suggested that they could, he himself struggled mightily. In Games 3-6 of the first round, Turner shot a woeful 9-30. His problems carried over in the second round against the Celtics.
In Game 1, Turner played well with 16 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high four steals. After that, Turner failed to meet any expectations. Adding insult to injury, Turner shot 1-10 in Game 3 and followed that up with a 5-22 shooting performance in Game 4.
Going 6-32 in a two-game stretch is not what Turner had in mind. It can happen when a player places attention on himself. Evan Turner has a bright future ahead of him, but it was not a good time for him in the spotlight.
Ramon Sessions was supposed to be the answer to the Lakers questions at point guard. After trade rumors kept surfacing, Sessions finally found himself wearing the purple and gold uniform. Sessions played well until the playoffs came and he was abused on defense by the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.
In the second-round meeting with the Thunder, Russell Westbrook had his way with Sessions. Consider these numbers when assessing how bad Sessions was on defense: Lawson 19 points, Miller 11.3 and Westbrook 25.6.
On offense, the struggles were more than obvious for Sessions as his shooting percentage dipped from .479 in the regular season to .377 in the playoffs. Against the Nuggets, Sessions fared decently. He had double-digit scoring nights in five of the seven games before laying duds in consecutive games in the Thunder series. Sessions had only managed two points in each game and saw his time on the floor going to the unheralded Steve Blake in the fourth quarter.
Sessions is a free agent and will almost certainly cash in on a free-agency class that is not particularly deep. I caution any interesting teams who have playoff aspirations. Ramon Sessions had his share of struggles once the lights became brighter.
Paul Pierce is also known as the truth. The truth is that he belongs on this list. Pierce is a NBA champion and he should be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but judging from the 2012 NBA playoffs he was a lock here.
Why do you ask? Pierce soldiered on despite some nagging injuries in his knees. He played admirably in the Celtics’ unlikely run in the postseason. The problem is that once the stakes got higher, Pierce often found himself in foul trouble.
Some may argue that many of the fouls that were committed were fringe fouls at best.
Some were ones that superstars of his level would usually be given the benefit of the doubt for. The other fouls were obvious. For example, the rundown of the Heat’s Shane Battier in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was foolish.
It did not cost the Celtics a win, but in two games prior his fouling out did indeed make a difference. The Celtics could have used Pierce’s offense in a game that they eventually lost by four.
In this case, Pierce never got a chance at the spotlight.
I praised James Harden for his great play a couple of weeks ago. In my view, he was the key to the NBA Finals. I told anyone who cared to listen that it was “Time to Fear the Beard”. I felt that he would finally step away from the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and carve his own niche.
I was wrong.
This is not my my mistake, but after watching the Finals, it was apparent that his struggles on the floor affected the title chances for the Thunder. Harden only scored in double-figures twice during the NBA Finals.
To add to his struggles, Harden had 12 turnovers—many of them in crunch-time situations.
It was painfully obvious that the pressure of playing in the NBA Finals got the best of him. Watching Harden’s short-arm layups, one could see that he was nervous. His palms seemed sweaty after every turnover. He seemed to play as if the NBA title had to be won solely his shoulders.
History would tell him that is the wrong approach to have under the spotlight.
My honorable mention goes to Chris Bosh. Without his contributions, the Heat would not have gotten past the Celtics. That being said, it is his first time winning a NBA title—but did he have to dance the way that he did?
The other honorable mention goes to the Heat’s Eddy Curry for not playing one minute in the NBA playoffs. The former Bulls’ standout earned his championship ring by playing a total of 53 minutes.
Can you believe that Curry has more championship rings than Karl Malone, John Stockton, Gary Payton and Charles Barkley?