In the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James blocked a dunk attempt by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry after the referee had blown his whistle to end the play. If it had gone in, the shot would not have counted. So why did James go out of his way to block it?
LeBron blocked Steph Curry's practice layup and stares him down pic.twitter.com/FRCN27QiXK
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 9, 2016
The answer provides a look inside the mental game, which can significantly affect the outcome of the actual game. Sports psychologists say that in this type of situation, Curry would benefit from seeing his shot go in the basket. Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter says that taking (and making) an easy shot after a play promotes positive thinking, combats nerves, reduces anxiety and alleviates pressure. Pro players agree.
"I think as a shooter, when you see the ball go in, you get confidence. You get rhythm," Rajon Rondo said.
Enter LeBron. The King wants to create as much anxiety as possible for the league's unanimous MVP. Curry made scoring from anywhere on the court look easy all season long. James's job is to make Curry think that the magic has run out.
LeBron on post-whistle block of Curry: "When you have greatest shooter in the world trying to get an easy 1... it's our job to keep it out."
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) June 9, 2016
Indeed, Curry did struggle in Game 3, shooting less than 50 percent from the field, going 3-9 on his signature deep ball and scoring 19 points on the night. That total would not be considered poor for any other player, but it is for Curry, who averaged more than 30 points per game during the regular season.
LeBron is by no means the first player to use this technique to get into an opponent's head. The athlete credited with originating the practice is Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Garnett, who made a habit of blocking shots after the whistle. In fact, in NBA circles, the move is called "the Garnett." Garnett says his entire motivation for the practice was "ticking [the shooter] off."
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has done it several times as well—after one possession stopping not only one but two shooters.
Not seeing the ball go in the hoop can negatively impact physical performance. According to Dahlkoetter, blood pressure rises and muscles become tense, if only marginally. Both of those conditions can negatively effect a player's performance.
So the next time you see an athlete go out of his way to stop a shot after the whistle, you'll know why.
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