This is it! The moment that will officially decide who wins the game. This moment has existed ever since the inception of the sport. It is the last part of the game that can seal a team’s fate or open the door to the improbable. Sometimes it is relevant, other times it can seem insignificant. In the playoffs, it has become the measure of a team’s resiliency. The dimension where heroes reside and imposters live in infamy. It seems that as of late, the line between the two has been blurred. The fourth quarter has become one of the most revealing aspects of today’s game exposing everything we old timers perceive is wrong with the sport of this era. Allow me to describe to you what should occur during this moment as taught to me by my era of basketball.
For years, none other than the great Earvin Magic Johnson has referred to the fourth quarter as “winning time”. This phrase implies that no matter what has transpired during the game, this is the moment that counts. It is the most important part of the game. Phil Jackson observed that the first three quarters of the game would reveal what to do in the fourth. It became the stage for World Champion Michael Jordan’s greatest performances. It was Larry Bird’s path towards legend. Only the strong can and will survive.
This is the time where your team should come together; where they should unite to overcome all of the obstacles that have been set in front of them so that they may bring forth the best of themselves in order to secure the victory. Scorers will score, rebounders will rebound, and defenders will defend to the best of their abilities. Observations have been made, assessments are now required. In order to score, I must take high percentage shots. In order to secure the rebound, I must give up my body and block out. In order to defend, I must have figured out by now what my opponent is not proficient at and do my best to force him to do so. Now when your scorer decides to defend as well, your rebounder starts to score also, and your defender begins to rebound like wise, that’s when your team has decided that it will do anything to win this game. This occurrence is what we used to call “showing up in the fourth quarter”.
As I have had time to observe and appreciate each distinctive playoff series, more and more I have come to the conclusion that today’s athletes lack this fundamental understanding. It has been a recurring theme in each series as teams have squandered opportunity after opportunity with what has seemed to be an absence of awareness and unclear practices. Arbitrary shots have become the main culprit of this ongoing culture of thoughtless and naïve deeds. I have learned to loathe the phrase “hero ball”. Where has the strategy, premeditation, gamesmanship, and clock management gone? Why must every possession become a high stakes gamble? What happened to building up the pot (to coin a poker phrase)? We used to be great chess players, now we play checkers and want to be considered just as great.
It is truly disconcerting to witness what passes as good basketball these days. I struggle with the fact that the details and intricacies of the game have not been imparted to this present generation, and its absence has been dismissed as the evolution of the game. To the analytical eye, there is a monumental difference between getting beat and throwing away the game. Let them see us at our best, knowing that we have given all that we can so that we may remain true to the game as well as to ourselves.