Momentum is a strange thing. A bridge that can connect the weak to the strong and swing an entire series, an entire playoff run, an entire championship run.
Someone asked me what is the most important element in the playoffs. What separates the best from the rest and helps teams win. I would have to say the answer depends on what seed you are. The higher seeds, the NBA elite, for them the most important factor is mental toughness, the focus to be able to always play at the highest level, always be prepared and never underestimate your opponent. For the lower seeds, it's all about momentum, which leads to confidence, which leeds to hustle, which leads to wins.
Ask any coach and more often than not, what worries them the most is not how teams react to losing, but how they react to winning. When teams feel a sense of entitlement to winning, they feel they've already proven how great they are, they don't have the motivation to show their best. This mental weaknesses is often the hurdle that many great regular season teams fail to overcome. For the younger NBA fans, I guess some recent examples would have to be Detroit's championship run, Furious George, Miami's championship run, Dallas's first round exit. In almost all of these cases what we witnessed was not the best team winning but was simply a fact of teams wanting it more, and being more than the sum of their parts.
What am I getting at now?
In spite of the Raptors current plight, I feel fans, teams, hell the entire organization should be reminded of the fact that mediocre teams sometimes achieve greatness. Miami's championship team was viewed as the worst team to ever win a title in the history of the NBA. Is it likely that the Raptors have enough games to get it together?
But if they do, hell they'll be going in full steam. For the record, I honestly feel, if the raps somehow get seeded, it will be the best playoff series they'll play in the last few years. This regular season has proved one thing, too many players lack mental toughness and the only solution to this problem is really momentum. 2 years ago, I knew we had no chance against the nets. With no answer at sf, no playoff experience, our players lacked the confidence and focus to understand the magnitude of each possession. Our run against Orlando was expected to be a better matchup, but the way we stumbled out of the regular season killed what little confidence and semblance of maturity and chemistry we had left. If the raps put a run together now, for once, we will be playing our best basketball of the season when it matters, in the playoffs. When this happens, usually the real test goes on the higher seeds and it becomes a test of their mental focus. As Atlanta proved, the effect momentum carries can stretch beyond one game and can carry on to multiple seasons. To me, they have to be the surprise team of the eastern conference, but if we look at how they ended the series, it really shouldn't be that surprising. Their momentum was a big reason why Boston proved to be overconfident and was pushed to a seven game series. I honestly believe what carried them forward to a championship, was the momentum they had to create by rallying together to get through long first, second and third rounds while the Lakers cruised to the finals.
As we witnessed with Knicks round 2, Marion is bringing a new intensity, fantastic rebounding and a great fast break attitude. If it proves contagious and spread to a few games, the Raps will give Chicago a run for its money for that last spot and could honestly capitalize on some over confident higher seeds.