Missing the Big Shot

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Paul Pierce, Forward / Los Angeles Clippers - The Players' Tribune

The entire arena is filled with nervous energy. With seconds left on the clock, everyone is watching you, waiting to see when you’ll make your move and whether it will be good enough to win the game.

You step back, put up your best shot and … it rims out.

The other team starts celebrating; you’re crushed.

Part of the appeal of taking the big shot is experiencing a wide range of emotions, from potential euphoria to complete distress. Making the big shot wouldn’t feel so good if missing it didn’t feel so awful.

I have more misses on game-winning attempts than makes. But you learn over time that those misses make you stronger. Each time you attempt a shot with all that pressure, it becomes a little less scary.

When a young guy is put in that situation and misses, they often lose their confidence. When you make the shot, you’re a superstar. When you miss, your character is tested and even questioned. A few inches to the left or right is the only difference between “He’s a superstar!” and “He’s a selfish player!”

Paul Pierce

One of the reasons I’ve had some success taking big shots throughout my career is because after I miss one — and again, I’ve missed plenty — I always keep my head high even though I’m hurting. Basketball is a mental game. I just tell myself that I’m going to make the next one, and, more importantly, I believe it.

You won’t find me moping in the locker room after a missed shot. I don’t apologize. I just try to keep a confident presence and lift the spirits of the guys around me. Being a leader only works if your teammates believe in you. Trust as a leader is something that needs to be earned and maintained. If you get visibly down on yourself, your attitude will rub off in the locker room. You can’t let one lost battle spiral into losing the war. A team losing a game is fine — it happens. But a team losing confidence is much worse. That can sabotage an entire season.

It seems like I’ve had a big miss in every single NBA arena. Of all of those misses, one still stands out in my mind more than any other, and it occurred 15 years ago.

It was during my second season in the league, and we were at home playing against the Raptors.

Toronto Raptors Vs. Boston Celtics

At the time, Vince Carter and I were rivals. We both came into the league the same year. We played the same position, and he was picked ahead of me in the draft. We were both top rookies and he ended up winning Rookie of the Year over me. He was getting all the press and becoming the poster boy of the league, but I felt like I was a better player. So, as you can imagine, I wanted to win this game more than anything.

I had the opportunity to seal a victory late in the game. We were up 94-93, with not much time left. Antoine Walker drove baseline and threw it to me to for an open shot. I missed it.

The Raptors got the ball back with a few seconds left, and well …

It was my nightmare.

More than a decade later, I still remember that sick feeling I had after the shot went in. In the locker room afterwards, while I was close to tears, Coach Pitino was defending our effort to the press. He’s a great coach. I still keep in touch with him to this day.

I was the last person to leave the locker room after that game. That’s usually how it goes when I miss the big shot. I always stay behind and replay it all in my mind. I consider what I could have done differently, and I keep doing that until I build up enough confidence in myself to know that I’m going to make the next one.

So in a way, missing the big shot is my source of strength. But making the big shot? Well, that’s what I live for.

This is Part One of my two-part series on taking the big shot. You can read Part Two here.

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Making the Big Shot

Anybody who played basketball in any capacity has taken a game-winning shot — whether it's during a game, on the playground or just in their mind while daydreaming.

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