As the playoff field narrows, the pressure on every team increases, testing every seam and solder and seal. If there's a missing element, the pressure will expose it. If there's a doubt, about anything, the pressure will balloon it. By the time a team reaches the Finals, a fissure is sure to become a geyser.
The most obvious make-or-break juncture: the game-winning shot with no time to spare. What should it be and who should take it? It's a topic of particular note in this year's playoffs because there already has been considerable debate about that very subject with several of the teams left, starting with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.
What do you do when you have more than one player willing and able to be a team's go-to guy? Can a team win an NBA championship like that? They can when their best player possesses a deferential nature, or in other words, is a non-alpha dog.
That is the challenge the Thunder face with as many as three players -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- with the offensive skill and kill-shot temperament to win or lose the game with one flick of their wrist. For all the caterwauling and hyper-scrutiny of Durant and Westbrook's relationship, the fact is they are back in the Western Conference finals for the second consecutive year and have found a way not only to coexist but make room for a third sniper, Harden.