I love being back in the playoffs, and everything that comes with the postseason and that environment.
Playing my first postseason game in the Garden was something else. That energy is unmatched.
The fans came up huge for us in Game 2 when we were behind. We fed off their energy. It’s a lot easier to come back when you make a couple buckets and the crowd is going crazy and standing on their feet. It forces the other team to call timeouts, and you get to a point where you feel like one bucket puts you right back in the game.
They carried us back in Game 2, and we appreciate that.
It also felt really good to be able to go back home to Indy and play in the playoffs there, and help us get two wins to close out the series. I felt like I played well, especially in Game 4, but winning both of those games meant more to me than my performance in the fourth game.
Having so much family there to watch me play in a couple playoff games made it that much sweeter. The timing couldn’t have worked out any more perfect for us as a family, too. In between the two games we were able to baptize my youngest daughter with the same priest who baptized our other two daughters. So being able to play in front of those people I care about and spend some time with them in between games made for a perfect Easter weekend.
I’m feeling much more confident about where my game is right now. People ask, “What’s different? What’s changed and allowed you to play at this level?”
Honestly, it’s just the repetition.
Going out there every game, the recipe is the same: just focus on making winning plays for our team. And that’s going to be different things in different games. But one thing I know I need to continue to do is attack the basket and be aggressive in that regard. It not only opens up my game, it opens up a lot of other things for our team.
I’ve definitely gotten some rhythm back in my game after it was hard to find at different points in the year. But going along with that, it’s experience, and the reps I’ve had with these guys in different situations over the course of this season.
The more time I’ve been out there on the court, the guys have learned how I like to play, what my strengths are and how we can utilize them. The same can be said from me to them. The more time I spend out on the court with my teammates, the more I know about where they like to get the ball, where they can be effective on the court and how I can help them be effective.
All that kind of goes together. Each rep helps me get better over a longer period time. It gives me confidence and it helps me with anticipation. There are no surprises now.
What stood out to me about the Pacers series was the way we continued to come together.
There were multiple times throughout the series where the Pacers built a lead on us and had us against the wall. They had a second-half lead in every game. They had double-digit leads in each of the first two. We could’ve fallen apart in any of the games, but we stayed with it, fought through adversity, and got the W each time. I’m proud of our guys for being able to do that—especially in a pressure-filled environment like the playoffs, and a really tough place to play over there in Indy, against a really good team.
The intensity of the playoffs just ramps everything up.
It heightens your energy just because of the stakes. Each possession just feels a lot more intense. Guys are hyper-focused, because the reality of the situation is that our season is on the line every game. As a team, we’re trying to do one thing and one thing only. So everybody is locked into the game plans and executing what we set out to do.
The thing that I liked most was that we had different guys step up each game and play really well at different important points.
Of course, Kyrie just has these moments where he’s able to put the team on his back. That was never more evident than in Game 2. Huge game. We were at home and down double digits, but we came back, and late in the game he hit three consecutive shots to get us the lead back. We were able to close out the win and keep control of the series. He’s a guy who has been on every big stage you can be on, and he’s definitely not afraid of the moment. We leaned on him there, and I’m sure we’ll do so again in the games to come.
But it’s really been everyone. Terry Rozier was a force on the defensive end, putting a lot of ball pressure on their guards. Then on the other end he was making timely plays and baskets for us. JT found ways to score down the stretch and give us big baskets in a few games. In Game 3, Jaylen Brown went off in the first half and had a really huge game that gave us a lot of momentum on the road.
I could just go down the line with different guys stepping up.
What I think you’re seeing is that no one on this team is afraid of the moment. We all have playoff experience, and the young guys got some valuable experience last year when some of us vets missed the postseason. You’re seeing it all come together now.
LOOKING AHEAD TO MILWAUKEE
We’ve got a big challenge in front of us. But it’s a challenge we’re ready for and excited to take on.
There’s no sugercoating it: The Bucks are a juggernaut.
They obviously lean on Giannis and the season he’s had, but they’re not a one-man team.
They have some great players. Khris Middleton had a great year and was rewarded by being an All-Star. Eric Bledsoe is playing tremendous basketball right now. Brook Lopez has been huge for them too, being able to stretch the floor and knock down threes. He spaces the floor for them in a way that allows other guys, particularly Giannis, to have more room to work in the paint. Then on defense, he’s giving them some shot blocking at the rim. Mike Budenholzer is also a tremendous coach, and adding that to a team that was already good last year gives us a lot to deal with.
Giannis is a special talent, no doubt. He’s an incredible player who can affect so many different parts of the game. He’s a matchup nightmare, especially if he’s hitting any type of shots outside the paint. He doesn’t even have to be effective there to be successful, but if he is, you’re definitely going to have problems. He’s so long and tall that it’s hard when you put a smaller guard on him. He takes advantage of the height disparity. But then if you try to put a big on him, he’s mobile enough to get by them and finish at the rim, too. On the defensive end, he’s so active, it’s like he’s everywhere. They’re at their best when they’re blocking shots at the rim or causing turnovers. That leads to him kind of running the break and being in the open court.
It seems obvious to say it, but we can’t give Giannis too many easy buckets around the rim. We have to try to make him score on contested shots outside the paint, which is definitely easier said than done. We all have to be aware of where he is, building a wall and just trying to make it so he can’t just have his way in the paint. That’s first and foremost. And then inching out the shooters when he does drive and making sure all their shots are contested and difficult, not letting them get open looks.
Our offense can also help us out on the defensive end. They’re so good in transition that we have to make sure we’re taking good shots, taking advantage of some of the things that they do when they guard, taking care of the ball and having good rim reads. If not, those misses, along with blocks and turnovers, lead to fastbreak opportunities and easy points for them. We can’t have that if we want to get by them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
It will obviously be a completely different series than we had with Indiana. It should be fun.
We have to go on the road to start this one, so I’m glad that we’ve had some time to prepare. We have been able to get our game plan straight, and get everything we need to have locked into our minds. We’re ready to head out there and get to that environment.
The good thing is, we gained some confidence going into Indiana and winning those two games to close out that series. It gave us a little bit of momentum, too. And of course, our fans were amazing in that first series.
We’re going to need that again once we get this one back home.
QUICK GAME OF THRONES PREDICTION
Before I go, I know everyone is swept up in Game of Thrones fever, and I am too. So I wanted to offer my predictions on what happens this final season.
With that in mind, I will give those who aren’t fans or who aren’t caught up some time and space to click out so I don’t ruin anything.
Ok, so these first two episodes have been solid, but this next one looks like a gamechanger. I could see pretty much anyone dying—with the exception of Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen, who I hope will be sitting on the Iron Throne when all is said and done.
One person I think definitely will die is Brienne of Tarth. They carved out the perfect ending to her story last week, and she will go down in history as the first female knight and have all that glory tied to her name. I’m sure she will die saving someone or doing something heroic as well.
My other prediction is kind of out there. I think the Night King is going to end up being a Stark. I’ll leave it at that.ᐧ
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