While a few newly minted Dream Teamers had their playoff moments—center Alonzo Mourning, for instance, powered the Heat past the Pistons—even the young stars couldn't deny that they were having a hard time keeping up with their elders. "It's not a coincidence," said Garnett after Pip-pen had engineered an 86-82 win over the Timberwolves in Game 2 with 21 points and seven rebounds. "These guys aren't just veterans, they're future Hall of Famers. They've been through the playoffs so many times that they just know stuff. They know what a ref will call in the playoffs and what he won't. They know how to handle the extra adrenaline you have at the start of a playoff game. There are so many things you can't learn until you experience this a few times. These veteran guys, they just know stuff."
Pippen, for instance, knows the importance of keeping himself fresh for the playoffs. "I pretty much coasted for part of the regular season," he admitted after Game 2. "I knew that having enough energy for the playoffs was the important thing."
He shifted out of cruise control in the first round and dispelled most of the doubts about whether the Blazers had a true leader. His two first-quarter dunks over Minnesota rookie Wally Szczerbiak in Game 1 were statement slams, letting both teams know that he had ratcheted his game up a notch and that he expected his teammates to do the same. "I haven't seen those legs all year," said Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire.
Pippen, whose 28 points in Game 1 were three more than his regular-season high, not only took more initiative on offense—he put up 21 shots in the opener after taking more than 19 only once since coming to Portland—but he also contributed in less obvious ways, coolly keeping the excitable Blazers under control. He spent much of the first two games whispering calming words into the ear of their loose-cannon forward, Rasheed Wallace, making sure Wallace was whistled for nothing more severe than his obligatory technical foul in each game. In Game 2 the Blazers made a second-quarter run to wipe out a 10-point deficit and take the lead. A timeout was called as the Rose Garden rocked. "Everybody is all excited coming back to the huddle," says Stoudamire. "The first thing Scottie says is, 'All right, take four or five deep breaths, everybody. We haven't done spit yet. Calm down and let's go back out there and do what we have to do.' To me, little stuff like that is big."
It is the little stuff that allows veterans to maintain their playoff edge over less experienced players: largely unseen things such as exhortations in a huddle or an extra hour in the weight room on an off-season morning. "Commitment is in the summer," says Malone, "when no one wakes you up, no one sets your alarm clock."
It's hard to believe the original Dream Teamers have clocks of any kind. The secret to their success is that they've lost all track of time.
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