Talking Points: West tops East in All-Star nailbiter

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Talking Points: West tops East in All-Star nailbiter

ORLANDO, Fla. Like most NBA all-star games, what looked like a blowout in the making, suddenly became a close game in the fourth quarter.

Despite a furious comeback in the fourth by the East, they could not overcome a strong first half by the West which hung on for a 152-149 win.

The East had a chance to go up in the final seconds of play, but a 3-point attempt by New Jersey's Deron Williams was well off the mark. The loose ball wound up back in the hands of the East, but LeBron James' pass was picked off by Blake Griffin who was immediately fouled.

He made one of two free throws with 1.1 seconds to play.

Kevin Durant had 36 points as the Western Conference All-Stars won for the second straight year, and third time in the last four years.

After trailing by as many as 21 points, a James 3-pointer made it a one-possession game (144-141) with about three minutes to play. He also had 36 points.

But a floater by Durant and a powerful, one-handed dunk by Russell Westbrook put the West back on top 148-143.

The East weren't ready to give up quite yet.

A dunk by Dwight Howard and a Deron Williams lay-up following a steal cut the deficit to 148-147.

The East had a chance to take the lead with about 80 seconds to play, but Dwyane Wade lost control of a long pass from James that sailed out of bounds. Wade had a triple-double of 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

That would prove to be a huge gaffe, as Griffin had a put-back dunk of a Westbrook miss to make it a 150-147 game with less than a minute to play.

The tight finish was a far cry from the way the game was being played in the first half.

Look no further than the shooting percentages at the half.

The West, which had an 88-69 lead at the half, was shooting 60.3 percent from the field while the East wasn't too shabby while connecting on 49.2 percent of its shots.

One of the game's other highlights was Kobe Bryant who finished with 27 points. In doing so, he surpassed Michael Jordan for the all-time leading scorer in All-Star game history. Bryant now has 271 points, breaking Jordan's mark of 262.
HOT SHOT: Kevin Durant of the West and LeBron James of the East put on a great show scoring the ball. And while they each finished with 36 points, Durant came up with some clutch buckets in the game's closing moments. LeBron?Not so much. That's why Durant's team won and he was named MVP.

IN-N-OUT: Paul Pierce said after the game he was trying to get up some shots. Mission accomplished. Making a few of them would have been nice, though. Pierce, one of just five Celtics to be named to 10 all-star games for the Green Team, had three points while missing seven of his eight shot attempts.

SUPER SUB: Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook continues to prove he's more than just Kevin Durant's sidekick. Named to his second straight All-Star team, Westbrook came off the bench and scored 21 points - more than any other All-Star reserve - on 10-for-17 shooting. He also managed to grab five rebounds.

TURNING POINT:With the East trailing 151-149, Deron Williams attempts a 3-pointer that's off the mark, but Williams is able to get the rebound. The ball winds up in the hands of LeBron James with time running down. He tries to throw a cross-court pass to a teammate, but the pass is intercepted by Blake Griffin who is fouled with 1.1 seconds to play. Griffin made one of the two free throws to secure the win.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2: That would be the number of consecutive wins for the West, snapping a string of alternating wins that dates back to 2006.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "It's just exciting to be named an All-Star, but to step it up another level and become MVP, it's only something that as a kid you dream about. Coming from where I come from, I didn't think I would be here."-Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, who was named All-Star MVP.

OFFSEASON

Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

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Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s athleticism was among the many reasons the Boston Celtics selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft. But even before he became a Green Teamer, Brown’s aspirations were much greater than being a high draft pick.

“I want to be a top five player in the league,” Brown said at his introductory press conference last month. It’s a lofty goal for sure; the kind that requires more than just talent. And that’s where Graham Betchart – Brown’s mental skills coach - comes in.

Betchart’s work as a mental skills coach has been on full display as one of the keys to Brown being among the standout performers during summer leagues in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively. 

The 6-foot-7 rookie was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s second team, one of just three lottery picks (top-14) in last month’s NBA draft (Ben Simmons of LSU and Thon Maker of Milwaukee) named to the first (Simmons) or second (Maker) team along with Brown.

In addition to Brown, Betchart has worked with each of the last three first overall picks – Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and most recently, Simmons. Betchart said he also worked with current Celtic guard Marcus Smart when he was at Oklahoma State.

While each player has their own specific program, there are some common threads that bind all of his clients.

“The big thing I want them to focus on is what in their control,” Betchart told CSNNE.com from New York City where he was meeting with the New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been one of the more outspoken athletes when it comes to mental health-related issues. “And so for a lot of these guys, they’re so good in high school and even college, they can focus on results and still produce results. As you get older, you realize that results are totally out of your control. And so my focus is getting them to focus on what’s in their control, and learning how to do it consistently; how to create a pattern, a consistent mindset.”

We saw that from Brown this summer with the Celtics’ summer league teams. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds but did so shooting a not-so-great 30.7 percent from the field and was even worst (27.2 percent) on 3s.

However, he did manage to get to the free throw line 10.2 times per game, which is surprising when you consider whistles typically aren’t blown as often in the summer than they are in a regular season game. And just to put his free throw average in perspective, only two players – Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – averaged more than 10 free throw attempts per game last season.

Brown has said on more than one occasion that getting to the free throw line often has to be one of his strengths in the NBA. Based on what he did this past summer, there’s no question it’s something he has indeed made a priority.

And the fact that Brown was able to do it consistently this summer falls in line with one of the core concepts that Betchart preaches to his clients.

“To me the hardest thing in sports is to be consistent,” said Betchart, who is now the director of mental training for San Francisco-based Lucid, a mental training app for athletes. “Anyone can just once in a while show up and have a great game. It really starts with having a consistent mindset based on what you can control. They have to be in the moment no matter what’s going on. It could be really bad, it could be really good.”

And when it’s over, players can’t dwell in the mistakes of the past.

“We make a mistake and get hung up sometimes,” Betchart said. “But if you can move on to that next play and train your focus to do that, it’s really hard to stop you if you don’t stop yourself.”

Instead, those mistakes actually form the foundation for future success.

In the case of Brown, one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the NBA was his shooting touch being anything but consistent.

“It’s the growth mindset,” Betchart said. “If you are going to master shooting, you’re gonna have to miss a lot of shots. It’s kind of like learning to walk. When you were learning to walk, you don’t remember but you fell down all the time. You didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m not going to walk. I’m just going to stay on the ground.’ You just picked yourself up and eventually you learned. When you get to the professional level, your game is analyzed on where it is right now. And right now, he’s 19 years old. There’s no way he’s going to be as good a shooter now as he’ll be at 23 and 25. And so if he embraces the growth mindset and just continues to focus on his process, which is taking the shot, being assertive, taking your shot, it’s all going to work out. I know this to be factually true.”

Another one of Betchart’s clients is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who came into the NBA as one of the worst free throw shooters in college basketball. In his lone season at Arizona, Gordon shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.

In his two NBA seasons, the 6-foot-9 forward has shot 68.1 percent.

“People were laughing at (Gordon’s free throw shooting) sarcastically and now as a pro he’s shooting (almost) 70 percent,” Betchart said. “It was all based on a growth mindset; just allowing yourself to fail and really, you’re not failing. You’re learning how to shoot. We introduce a concept called Victory goes to the Vulnerable. You’re going to be vulnerable sometimes. People are going to talk about your shot. That’s OK. We let people have their opinions. We don’t try and stop them. It’s all part of the process.”

Ah yes, the process.

If you listen to Brown, he has said on more than one occasion whether he played well or not, that all that he’s going through now is part of a process that will eventually make him a better person and a better player for the Celtics.

Part of that process is utilizing the various mental techniques and teachings of Betchart, who has known Brown since he was 15 years old and had a chance to spend a considerable amount of face-to-face time with him this past year when Brown was at Cal.

Most of what Betchart talks about has a strong basketball teaching component to it. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more going on.

“Everybody starts to realize these are life skills,” Betchart said. “It’s tough to separate basketball from life. You’re going to be who you are on the court, off the court. These skills, learning to control what you can control, being present, moving on after mistakes, this is what we leave in life as well, learning how to be vulnerable in life and do those things. It naturally gravitates towards life and … what’s going on in life. It’s a natural progression. They’re human beings who choose to play a sport for a living. They are not basketball players; Basketball is what they do.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN