If there’s one thing you learn in basketball, it’s that what you did in the past doesn’t mean anything now.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re proud of how far we got last year — we’re proud of how we showed everyone that the moment wasn’t too big for us. For most of the team, that was our first real playoff experience. So to win games at the Garden with how crazy that was, and to win a Game 7 on the road against the 1 seed, and then to go toe-to-toe with the team that ended up winning it all … I think we proved a lot to people with that run. And I know we proved a lot to ourselves.
But at the same time, last year’s playoffs feel like a million years ago.
And I feel like with this year’s journey, we’re having to prove ourselves all over again.
Just look at how the regular season went for us. It wasn’t the best start, and it wasn’t the best finish either. We struggled a lot with finding our rhythm. And we had to fight just to get into the play-in, as the 9 seed, to have a chance to even make the playoffs. Obviously, that’s not the situation you want to be putting yourself in, and that’s not where we expected to be back in October. We just weren’t playing well in so many different ways, to be honest. Missing shots, defensively we weren’t as active as we were late last season, some injuries piled up … there were a lot of things we needed to fix.
But it’s like I said: In basketball, the past doesn’t matter. Every time you step on the court, it’s a fresh start. So just like our success in last year’s playoffs didn’t guarantee anything for this year’s regular season, we know that our struggles this year don’t have to guarantee anything for these playoffs.
And we tried to get a jump on that fresh start in the play-in against Charlotte. Man, let me tell you, just seeing State Farm Arena rocking like that, with that playoff-type atmosphere, I think it gave us a whole different energy. This team knows what it’s like to face “win or go home” level pressure, and so do our fans. And none of us were about to let our season end.
Against the Cavs, we had to go on the road, and it was a battle like we expected. If you watched that game then you know what I’m talking about. Having to play them at their place — that’s a really good team, and a tough crowd. Plus we were coming in banged up without JC. Then we started the game horribly, and we lost Clint in the second quarter. We were lucky to only be down 10 at the half. But I love how this team doesn’t panic in those moments. I think a lot of it comes from Trae. He doesn’t do the big loud speeches, but all you need after a bad half is to see the look on his face. You can tell he knows it’s never over.
Second half, he drops 32 of course, in typical Trae fashion. That’s just what Trae does — and his mentality spills over to the entire team. Bogie was being Bogie and hitting all kinds of shots. Gallo stepped into the starting lineup and came up big. O was grabbing rebounds. De’Andre was making his presence felt. And I can promise you, in that comeback, we weren’t thinking about what the stats say or what the seedings say. We were thinking about the main thing we already know: that if we’re playing our best basketball, we’re a dangerous group.
Even against the 1 seed. Like, we respect the hell out of the Heat, they’re an experienced team, and they’re at the top for a reason. And we get it … being the bottom seed, people doubting us comes with the territory. And I’m sure that people are doubting us even more now, after the way we played in Miami.
But losing two games isn’t going to make us lose our confidence — especially not with the next two being in Atlanta. The only question that’s on our minds right now, heading into these home games, is how do you plan to respond? That’s what we’re asking ourselves.
And I can tell you the answer.
We’re going to do what this team always does, and what the A always does, when our backs are against the wall: Come out fighting.