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NBA Playoffs: Spurs' greatness was born well before the playoffs — and Thunder could learn from that approach

by Jenni Carlson Published: June 16, 2014

Kendrick Perkins is the only player expected to return to the Thunder who has won an NBA championship, so he knows what it takes to get to that elitist of elite levels. And he believes the answer for the Thunder boils down to its mental approach throughout the season.

“Learning how to play the right way for 82 games and not try to turn on the on switch in the playoffs,” he said after the Thunder lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. “What you do in January (has an impact) on how you play in April, May and June. You gotta develop that trust early.”

Don’t want Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook going into panic mode and hero ball late in playoff games? You have to build trust among the entire team with continuity and flow during the regular season. It won’t magically appear during crunch time.

Perk referenced the final moments of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals when LeBron James passed up a potential game-winning shot, throwing the ball instead to Chris Bosh in the corner. Bosh missed, and Indiana survived to play another day.

“LeBron took a lot of heat from certain people that he didn’t take the last shot,” Perk said. “But he made the right basketball play.

“That’s a trust he had been developing through the whole regular season. He passed up game-winners before, and I seen him kick it to Udonis Haslem for the game-winning jump shot. It’s the right basketball play. Not only that, it helps the other guy, like the role player, to know that this ball’s coming to me every single time.”

Habits developed in November and December, then engrained in January, February and March become routine in the playoffs.

That means a random Wednesday night game against Cleveland is every bit as important as a Friday prime-time game against Miami.

“If you’re trying to take it to the next level,” Perk said. “If you’re playing all in. That’s the key.”

That was one of the keys for the Spurs. They didn’t have more individual talent than the Thunder or the Heat. They weren’t more athletic. They weren’t faster or quicker or stronger, at least not physically. But they were better in the playoffs because they spent all season getting ready for them.

It’s a small difference, a slight mental shift, but it’s could be the difference between your downtown canal having a victory parade and having a quiet Wednesday night.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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