If you’ve seen the greatest of all Elvis movies, and surely you have, then you’ll know of the song Confidence. It comes in the pivotal moment of Clambake where Elvis needs to sing a song, and some ugly kid needs help in being convinced to slide down a slide in the playgorund. So Elvis sings:
with a C and an O and an N and a F and an I and a D and an “ents” - put ‘em all together and you’ve got confidence!
The song owes much to Sinatra’s High Hopes as imagined by a von Trapps tribute act, with instrumental interludes of children’s songs as though interpreted by Aaron Copeland, thrown in for good measure. It’s truly beautiful. To top everything off, Elvis takes a basketball with rainbow-colored panels, and sinks a one-handed shot like he was a pre-gun-toting Agent Zero. The video should be played in the Raptors locker room before every game. Just for the heck of it.
Confidence is what has been on display as of late, more than just high hopes, and it’s getting the job done. It is one of the key elements of team play that has been lacking over the last couple of seasons. It’s the sort of thing that made it particularly hard for Chris Bosh to carry the team very far. At the same time it might have taken his dedication to improving his strength, as much as the overhaul of the roster, to make all those letters fit together. When he got more immense, the team found more con-fi-dence. That means getting stops when absolutely necessary, and making clutch shots to get the job done at the end. When it comes to owning fourth quarters this team is doing it on both ends of the court. Jack and Wright are nailing threes, Bosh and Hedo are getting to the line, offensive boards are there to be grabbed, and Bargnani is providing weak side help and swatting the shots of opponents. In the last 25 games, they have only been outscored 5 times, and have allowed more than 25 points in fourth quarters only seven times. None of that stuff is cheesy enough to be in Clambake, but it’s pretty good all the same.
Where does it come from? Having some legs to finish games. Where they ran into trouble in the past, they often ran up a pretty good score for themselves early on, but didn’t always have enough eft to run back so well, then found themselves unable to get back in transition at all in second halves, and just had no way to respond on either end in fourth quarters. Now they are running much more sensibly. No more running down the court in unison just to hurry up and run a half-court offense. Instead they have one guy leaking out at the right times, a rebounder getting the outlet pass off in a hurry, and a fairly effort-free fast break with actual scoring involved. When the leakouts aren’t there to be exploited and they decide to run off a rebound or turnover, they run with the clear intent of scoring on the break, whether they have numbers or not. No more running like mad just to pull up behind the arc and assess what kind of coverage the opposing team managed to put together, and then rushing plays to take advantage of the slightest mismatch. A break on it’s own puts the defender on their heels and provides enough of a mismatch to at least try to exploit. They do still need to get better at finishing in those instances, since missed layups in those cases almost always lead to easy transition points the other way. But I’d say the overall effectiveness with less energy expended, is better than when they would pull up on breaks and rush passes that would lead to turnovers. And the overall effect is fresher legs to defend in the fourth quarter, even in back-to-back games.
Teams that sense they can get stops tend to be better at making big shots in the clutch. There’s less choking, because there is a fallback position in working to get a stop on the other end. D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix maybe didn’t need that fallback position to have some success, but it was still something they could have used in the playoffs over the years, when some uncharacteristic choking on shots could be seen on display. Colangelo’s early support of Triano seemed to be based on the idea of bringing D’Antoni’s don’t-worry-be-happy environment into play here. Thankfully he has stepped back from that and now credits the coaches taking a position of “being there for the players” while also “getting on them” and holding them accountable, as a big part of the turnaround. I would say that the stubborn position taken by Triano with regards to any changes early on, fell by the wayside at the same time. Stuff that wasn’t working simply wasn’t working - accountability went both ways.
I like to think that Alvin Williams provides much of the accountability that flows in both directions. His words at the fateful meeting of December 4 have been noted by Antoine Wright. Alvin’s career began for real when Lenny Wilkens showed confidence in the tough-minded point guard, and that confidence was properly built upon. Maybe he was the perfect guy to have in the room to bridge multiple gaps and give everyone a sense of what was needed to create a team that gives itself a chance to win with what looks like confidence - that thing that had been missing for too long.
Now there are false hopes that lead olympians to cry when they fail to make medals materialize, and there is false confidence that leads a team to fail to take care of all of the details now and again. That false confidence is part of what happened against Memphis. Everything was going to script, but they had relied too heavily on Bosh’s scoring throughout, and then thought that they had done enough to win down the stretch when 34 seconds were still there to tick off on the clock. That game needs to stay in the heads of the players and the coaches, because taking care of all the details is going to be a necessary friend of confidence as the schedule gets a little tougher right about now. They have responded well to the Memphis loss, and found that confidence, and staying in games mentally right to the end, can carry them even without Chris Bosh. Now they need to put everything together to win at a good clip over the final stretch, and try to secure home court for the playoffs.
In the meantime if you haven’t seen Clambake, check out the Confidence song here -