The 4th quarter is where you find yourself. If you’ve been playing the whole 40+ minutes, chances are you are pretty gassed by the time the 4th quarter rolls around. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. You know what you are capable of, you know what crossovers work to beat your guy, and you know playing weak-side defense on the block puts you in a position to block the shit out of that one guy with the soft floater. Despite this knowledge, your legs burn with acid, your legs yearn for more air, and your stomach clenches into a knot.
“It’s running game” an old high school coach admonished upon my teammates and I. Before even trying out for the team, you go through 3 days of conditioning so the coaches can see who is actually fit enough to play a whole game of basketball. I remember all the suicides and shuffling drills and how I dreaded practices where you just conditioned. Now, I wish I had teammates and a coach for the motivation to get mind and body on the right page.
No matter how fancy your dribbling is or how smooth your passing is, basketball at its core is still a game of running, cutting, and change of speed. Last summer, as I started to play in more leagues, I quickly realized my endurance and conditioning are nowhere near what I had in my days of infinite energy and metabolism. In the rec leagues, I’ll end up playing the whole game, and while I’m building more muscle and gaining weight through the gym, these attributes don’t help me with finishing that 4th quarter with the same intensity as the 1st. Without conditioning, you are like a sushi knife that is only sharp enough to slice watermelon. A guitar wildly out of tune.
When you’re fatigued, you obviously move slower and take a longer time to recover from a play. Your decision-making and court awareness begin to dwindle as well. In the 1st quarter, you “feel” where the opponents are running as your mind plays the angles and looks for the cutting players. By the end of the game, I try to maintain that same level of awareness and I begin to overwhelm myself, and resort to focusing my efforts on the one guy I’m supposed to guard. Everyone is tired, both you and your opponents. But I find that I remember how I played in the 4th quarter more than any other time in the game, and I mentally tell myself to step it up since this is when your opponent is most weakest as well.
Instead of lifting all the time, I have started running suicides and sprints along the West Side highway. It’s easy to just jog up and down the highway and sweat a little and say you’ve done “cardio”, but to really simulate what it’s like in the 4th quarter, I run until I feel dizzy and my lungs are about to implode. It’s sadistic in a way, but this is also when I feel most alive and vulnerable to the limits of what my body can do, and what my mind says I can do.