Is it real? Is it imagined? I guess it depends on who you ask. If you ask Scott Skiles, he scoffs at the notion that such a thing exists. In the world of Scott Skiles, pressure is the force that causes a door to open when he pushes on it. In the world of Scott Skiles, athletes are playing a game and the media doesn’t exist. He doesn’t strike me as someone who wakes up in the morning and reads the papers to see what was said and hear about what teams are being forecasted to advance far. So the pressure in a playoffs series placed on teams by media predictions and the interests of their fans, now, that doesn’t mean anything to Scott Skiles.
“I have a hard time talking about that (pressure),” remarked Coach Skiles after the game. “It’s all just perceived, it’s all just made up by other people. I don’t buy into the whole pressure thing. I know it does exist, I know some times athletes fall prey to it, but you gotta get past it.”
But Scott Skiles has been around basketball for about 40 years. Of course the pressures of the basketball court are no longer relevant to him. Brandon Jennings is still a baby faced rookie of just 20 years on Earth. The story is a bit different for him.
“I feel the pressure now. It’s game seven now. We’ve worked all hard for this so we gotta go in there and know that we can win. We didn’t prepare all year just to get to the playoffs and say forget it. It’s game seven, we gotta go in there and give them everything we’ve got. I know I am.”
Call it being a wide-eyed youth in a grown mans game if you will, but rarely will you find an athlete more forthcoming than Brandon Jennings. He’s willing to admit he’s feeling the heat. I guess that’s part of being a leader. Jennings wanted to win this one, he wanted to do it for the home crowd, for his teammates and for himself. That’s what being a point guard is all about, taking responsibility. So Jennings is willing to admit he’s feeling pressure the same way he’s willing to admit he’s thrilled with wins.
Skiles saw it in game six.
“We thought he was feeling it a little bit early in the game, he played eight minutes and we took him out, hoped he could rest and shake it off a little bit. This is his first time going through this, this is the biggest game he’s ever played in.”
Perhaps it’s troubling that the Bucks point guard is feeling the heat as he heads down to Atlanta for game seven. If it shows in his performance the way it appeared to on Friday’s game six loss, it could spell another defeat for the Bucks and the end to their unbelievable season. But just as making the playoffs wasn’t just about this year, his willingness to take on and feel that heat isn’t just about this season either. Jennings knows he’s the leader and wants that responsibility. Even if it negatively affects his game right now, it’s something that should prove to be a terrific learning experience for the rest of his career.
Whether or not he’s the only Bucks player feeling the pressure is tough to say. The veteran Bucks won’t cede to much and you’d be hard pressed to find looser guys after this one than Jerry Stackhouse or Kurt Thomas.
“I’ve been in this situation,” Stackhouse said. “There isn’t anything sweeter than that — to go in and win a game seven in another team’s building.”
Not many rookies get to experience two series clinching games in their first season. Much less as a starter. Even fewer as a starting point guard. Of all the lessons Jennings has had the opportunity to learn this season, this could prove to be the most important, not to mention the one that keeps him going this summer.
So while I’m as disappointed as any Bucks fan in the game six loss, you won’t find me burying my head in the sand or walking into traffic. I’m excited to see development in action.
And you should be too.