The NBA playoffs are where legends are born. Jordan, Magic and Bird all excelled in clutch situations to cement their names among the best ever. There are others like Reggie Miller or Allen Iverson who haven’t won championships, but have displayed enough gall and fortitude in playoff games to earn respect from teammates and fans.
Many players regard the NBA playoffs as the true season. It is where stars are made, and dreams dashed. The Sonics enter this year’s playoffs with a youthful exuberance and a determination to surprise the league. With only one player, Gary Payton, with any lengthy playoff experience, the atmosphere will be new and foreign to most of the Sonics.
Guard Brent Barry, who has played in eight playoff games, warns, “It’s a completely different season.”
Each possession and each shot will be cherished. Each foul or turnover will carry more weight. For several Sonics they’ve been through a similar experience during March Madness.
It will be the first playoff series for Sonics Desmond Mason, Earl Watson and Ansu Sesay. All three competed in the NCAA tourney. Mason reached the Elite Eight with Oklahoma State in 1998, Watson played in three games for perennial tourney-bound UCLA, and Sesay led Mississippi to consecutive NCAA appearances in ‘97 and ‘98.
Mason realizes things will be different once the playoffs start. He’s already seen the change as teams have used the remaining regular season games to gear up for the first round.
“Just watching games you can see the intensity and the atmosphere starting to rise,” Mason said. “You can look at it as the same kind of energy as the NCAA tournament has. It will be my first NBA playoffs so I don’t know what to expect.”
Watson, the rookie point guard, will certainly draw from his experience as a Bruin. In the tourney, he averaged 15 ppg, 5.7 rpg and five apg.
“The good thing is that I played at UCLA and I’ve had four years of playing in big games my whole career, so I’m prepared for this moment,” Watson said. “One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t get overly-excited. You have to have a consistent emotion and effort but also be very tenacious and determined.”
Watson also added, “It’s better in the NBA because you have a series. March Madness you’re one-and-done.”
As the seventh seed, the young Sonics will face a San Antonio team that features one of the game’s best big men in Tim Duncan. Mason and Watson haven’t had the spectacular numbers against the Spurs, but they’ve been solid. They’ve helped the Sonics beat the Spurs twice. In their last game on April 3, the Sonics lost by only two at the Alamodome. A hobbled David Robinson could give Seattle the needed advantage for a first-round upset.
This year’s playoffs will also be the first for the Sonics who arrived here from overseas. Predag Drobnjak, Vladimir Radmanovic and Olumide Oyedeji are youngsters who can draw only from their experiences competing for their national or club teams.
Excluding Payton who has 89 games of playoff experience, the other Sonics combine for only 33 games in the postseason. Perhaps the Sonics weakness can become their strength. The ever-quotable Barry sure hopes so. “We might be young and dumb enough to do something this year,” he said.