Schooled: Jason Terry On The Pressure Of The NBA Finals

The NBA Finals is the pinnacle of professional basketball. Very few make it there, and even fewer walk away with a ring. This year, the Spurs overcame total heartbreak for another shot at the two-time defending champs, the Miami Heat, and now up 3-1 and going home, it looks like they’ll have it.

To get an idea of what they’re going through in the Finals, as well as what they went through this season, I caught up with 15-year veteran Jason Terry. A career 15.4 points per game scorer, Jason made the Finals twice with Dallas, first losing in a nail-biting series against the Heat before beating them in a rematch five years later in 2011.

Terry, currently with Sacramento, knows what the Spurs went through this summer. In 2006, Dallas blew a 2-0 lead against Miami, watching as Dwyane Wade ran up 97 free throw attempts in six games. It haunted them all summer, driving them to win 67 games the following season before seeing it all come crashing back down by losing to eighth-seeded Golden State in the playoffs.

Eventually, they righted the ship and made history.

Below, in his own words, the JET talks about the pressure of the Finals, the media, and how the Spurs overcame last season.

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The first thing you think about is just the opportunity. To win a championship is something that you practice and prepare for your entire career. When that opportunity comes you’re just thinking about seizing the moment.

I just think you have to really be careful of going out there and playing overly anxious and overly angry. Use that as an edge but don’t overdue it and understand that every possession is critical. I think San Antonio plays with that type of mindset and that comes from their coach and it comes from their core group that has been in many, many Finals games and have already had success and won championships. I’m talking about Manu, Tony, and Tim Duncan.

I still haven’t gotten over the losing. That always sticks with you more than the winning because it is so hard to get to the championship and I wanted to get there. If you don’t win, it’s something that haunts you for the rest of your life because you let an opportunity slip away. Those opportunities are very, very rare.

You always remember the wins because that’s the ultimate. It’s the greatest moment of your career. The loss is just always somewhere deep down in the back of your mind like “Man, if only we could’ve got it done, we’d have two and not one.”

You gotta keep your routine very normal. You want to, as much as you can, keep it light. For me on the game day, you get up for team breakfast. They have a film on of either the game that you just played or another game against that team. And then you’d go to shootaround, get loose, go through the gameplan, come back to the hotel, have lunch as a team and then you would go up to your room.

For me, I would go and I would put on a highlight tape of myself before I went to sleep and took my nap. Then I would wake up, hop in the shower, put my suit on and make sure my suit was nice and pressed and I would get on the bus and head over to the game.

The only difference between the regular season and the Finals was that the meeting at lunch…you wouldn’t get breakfast. You wouldn’t have a breakfast meeting. You’d only have a lunch meeting. The coaches do it in the Finals to make sure you don’t miss anything as far as scouting is concerned, or gameplan.

But the biggest surprise was the media coverage. I didn’t realize how much media is actually involved covering the Finals. It’s every single media outsource you could think of, not only across the United States but across the world. Just knowing that you’re the last team left playing…even if they aren’t basketball fans, it’s just people watching because this is it. This is the Super Bowl of basketball. This is what everybody wants to tune in to see. That’s what it comes to.

[The second time], I expected it. I wasn’t in awe of the media. I knew which interviews to take and which ones to say “Ah, maybe next time.” Again, a lot of these people that come in to interview are fans too. They aren’t just covering the game, and you can spend a lot of time just going over questions that aren’t even relevant to the game and that kind of makes you lose focus.

They don’t really allow you to change up anything because the media is mandatory. You can’t avoid it. You can’t get away from it. But it didn’t affect any of my superstitions.

I just made sure I had my immediate family taken care of for tickets, home and away. I learned that already because I got a big family anyway so throughout the season, I would have tons of ticket requests so it didn’t change for me in the Finals. That wasn’t a factor.

When I was in the Finals, it was a 2-3-2. The first time we lost to Miami, it felt like we were in Miami for two weeks. It was just that long because you played three games there. The travel was a little different being in one city for that period of time.

The strategy for us definitely didn’t change. We knew the formula of how we wanted to attack them offensively and defensively we knew we had several different game plans in place just in case they hurt us with what they were trying to do. There was much more of an emphasis on specifics rather than in a regular season game where we’d say, “Okay, let’s just play them, let’s do what we do well and get the outcome.”

I loved the pressure. When we lost the Finals, in both Games 5 and 6 I had an opportunity to win the game and I missed both times so for me, it was something that stuck with me and if I got back to the Finals, I would always hope in a pressure situation that I would get another opportunity.

It wasn’t for the game-winner but in Game 5 [in 2011] I hit a pretty big shot over LeBron with about a minute left to kind of seal the deal. Those are the moments that you live for. Those are the moments that you look back on. As a child on the playground, we used to count down the clock 3, 2, 1 when you’re just out there by yourself emulating the greats like Isiah, Magic, and Jordan taking that last shot. You always would make it. That’s why I love those moments.

I don’t know if I noticed any of my guys [wilting in the pressure] and I wasn’t paying attention to the other team in that situation. But I know my guys were all ready because we already knew who was going to take the shot for us. It was going to be either Dirk or myself and so we knew both of us were willing and ready to take the shots…and Jason Kidd would take the shot from time to time.

If we beat San Antonio on their home court, usually I can guarantee nine times out of 10 there would be a cold shower. They wouldn’t have the hot water on in the locker room. That was crazy.

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