Pressure, the weight of expectations. This is something every athlete has to deal with when playing a sport at its highest level. Their job is to stretch the physical possibilities of what humans can do, to push mankind forward in the pursuit of athletic perfection.
The NBA Playoffs are an excellent example of this. Teams locking horns in head to head battles that see their legacies on the line. What more could you want? This is the best basketball there is, when the stakes are highest.
Every major player involved has a different story to tell, but only one will have a happy ending. Here are my five players with the most pressure on them this postseason.
5. Isaiah Thomas - Boston Celtics
“It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.”
This quote from Mark Twain perfectly sums up Isaiah Thomas who has shown that he has the biggest heart in the entire league. After tragically losing his sister in a car accident the day before his first playoff game this year, Thomas came out and scored 33 points in the Celtics loss.
Isaiah, the entire sports world stands with you.
With that being said, Thomas is still under a lot of pressure to perform this postseason. The Celtics are considered to be the only team able to challenge the Cavaliers and LeBron James for the East and with the Celtics struggling against the Chicago Bulls, the burden for Thomas to perform has never been higher.
Will this little guy get to prove us all wrong again and show that it really is heart over height?
Isaiah, the stage is yours.
4. Chris Paul - Los Angeles Clippers
This year looks set to be the last for Lob City. After Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in 2012 everyone thought that for the first time in their franchise’s history, the Clippers were relevant. Surely they would go on one run to get CP3 his well-deserved ring?
Alas that hasn’t happened so far and with Paul and Griffin both hitting free agency, this year could be the last hurrah.
The Clippers have always been one of the most entertaining teams to watch since Paul arrived. From the athletic prowess of Griffin and Jordan to the ball-handling mastery of Jamal Crawford, to the passing wizardry of Chris Paul.
However, this is style over substance. Paul and the Clippers have never made it past the second round, something that seriously dents his basketball resume. The Clippers have choked time and time again; this year looks to be their last chance.
Chris Paul is a surefire Hall of Famer, but if he wants to cement his name with the very best then the pressure is on for him to at least make the Conference Finals.
3. Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is one of the most electrifying players in the NBA and the greatest shooter we have ever seen. He currently has 4 of the top 5 three-point shooting seasons in terms of made threes and looks set to blow Ray Allen’s record of career threes out the water. He is also a two-time MVP and the first unanimous MVP in league history.
But even with all this, questions remain about his greatness.
Much like LeBron 6-7 years ago, Steph is being questioned as to whether he is a clutch player or not. In last year’s Finals, the Warriors infamously blew a 3-1 series lead and Curry severally underperformed.
After leading the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game on above 50% shooting Curry only averaged 22.6 points per game in the Finals on just over 40% shooting. That’s a big drop off for someone as talented as Steph. On top of that, he only scored 17 points in the vital Game 7 at home to repeat as back to back champions.
With so much hype around the Golden State Warriors due to their ‘big four’ the pressure for Curry to cement his legacy as a true great has never been higher.
2. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
After delivering on his promise and winning a title for his hometown LeBron James has easily secured his spot amongst the greatest players to have ever played.
But before he won his first title in 2012 he was definitely the most scrutinized athlete in America. Having been dubbed ‘The Chosen One’ in that famous Sports Illustrated cover when he was just 16, never has a sportsman faced as much pressure as LeBron.
A lot of that died down with LeBron having won his third ring but until the day he retires there will always be that burden of having to win a title every year to satisfy everyone. That’s what greatness is. When you’re compared to the likes of Michael and Magic, only the best will do.
LeBron says he puts even more pressure on himself than we do. This offseason he said he was chasing the ghost in Chicago, which is the legacy of Michael Jordan.
This is the epitome of why LeBron truly is and always will be an NBA legend. Even with his incredible success he isn’t satisfied.
LeBron is the best player in the world and with that comes a lot of pressure to perform, will he and his Cavs be able to repeat?
1. Kevin Durant - Golden State Warriors
Did you have any doubt?
Durant is the NBA’s new super villain. He inherited that title from LeBron as soon as he left OKC to go join the team that beat him in last year’s Playoffs. Never has the saying “title or bust” been more applicable than to Golden State. They have arguably two of the top three players in the NBA on their roster and nothing less than a dominant victory in the Finals will do.
The main bearer of these huge expectations is Kevin Durant.
Ever since he made it to the finals in 2012 aged 23 he’s been considered the 2nd best player in the league. We were OK with him losing then to LeBron because he was so young, but the sky was the limit for the Durantula.
Five years later?
Durant is at the peak of his powers aged 28 and has yet to make it back to another NBA Finals. The criticisms he would face if the Warriors somehow didn’t win the title would be undeniable. There would be constant talk as to whether he and Curry were compatible or whether they should go their separate ways.
Every spotlight is now on Durant, will he shine or crumble? We are all watching.