‘Always be in the ballgame’: how bench players can tilt the NBA finals

‘Always be in the ballgame’: how bench players can tilt the NBA finals

For all the talk around Nikola Jokić and Jimmy Butler ahead of the NBA finals, history shows reserves like Denver’s Bruce Brown and Miami’s Duncan Robinson could be the difference

Before the 1982 NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Earl Cureton had no idea when he might play in the series. But instead of focusing on what he didn’t know, the backup forward-center for the Julius Erving-led Philadelphia 76ers focused on what he could. Stay ready, observe the game. Don’t lose sight of how to help, even in small doses. It doesn’t matter that you’re a reserve on the sidelines, Cureton told himself. Still, the experience was jarring; his first time in the league’s final series. The playoffs are a different animal compared to the regular season and the NBA finals are even more pressurized. Though this all swirled in Cureton’s mind some 40 years ago, the task remains the same for players today. Indeed, in this year’s NBA finals, players like Denver’s Bruce Brown Jr and Miami’s Duncan Robinson will undertake crucial roles coming off the bench for their squads. But what exactly does it take to excel as a backup in the league – especially in June?

“Your mental focus is the most important thing you have to sharpen when it comes to the playoffs,” Cureton tells the Guardian. “With my situation [in Philly], I never knew when I was going in. And you never know what’s going to happen – foul trouble, injuries. You have to prepare yourself like you’re going to be out there every single game.”

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