Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The most valuable timeout
By Henry Abbott
... is the one you use in the game's final seconds.
At other times in the game, timeouts are handy and all. They have some effect, we assume, right? At any time in the game you can settle your team down, charge them up, quiet the crowd, draw up a play, make a substitution or whatever. They're worth something all game long.
But they're extremely valuable when there are just a few seconds left in the game and you just got the ball. No one can convince me otherwise.
Now (to randomly pick on one of a zillion coaches who does the same thing) watch how the Pacers finished last night's game against the Bucks:
When Andrew Bogut missed that free throw, Troy Murphy grabbed the rebound. The Pacers were down three with 4.2 seconds left.
That proved to be enough time for T.J. Ford, the smallest player on the court who at that moment had made a massive one of the 27 3s he had attempted on the season, to run full speed to the spot where a defender was waiting for him, ignore a shooter in the right corner for lack of time, and launch a 3 that missed by a country mile. Game over.
It wasn't all that surprising. From the instant the Pacers got the rebound, the whole play had a desperate, Hail Mary feel to it.
With a timeout, the Pacers probably still would have lost. As they had proved on the play before, it's tough to get a good look at a 3 when the defense knows that's what you want. But -- I can't prove this, but I bet somebody can (cough, Daryl Morey, cough) -- I'd wager the Pacers would have been much more likely to score coming out of a timeout. Yes, they give the defense time to set up, but the defense was already set up in this case. With a timeout, the Pacers would get to move the ball to half-court if they want. They get to insert the optimum personnel. They get to diagram a play. They get to catch their breath. They get to free up their go-to guy with picks. They get to have all their players within 30 feet of the hoop they're shooting at. They even get to make a pass or two if they're so inclined. They can even go Phil Jackson and use the whole court in a cleverly planned play (watch the 2:50 mark).
In short, they get to do something that we have seen work many times in NBA games.
But they had no timeouts.
Why? Because they had already used three of them in the last two minutes. One with 1:13 left, down four points. Another with 28 seconds left, down five. And the final one with 18 seconds left, down 3.
That last one, when they called it, was the one that got me antsy.
Think about that moment. You're down three, with 18 seconds to go, with the ball. Maybe there is some gunslinger coach out there who would just burn all the clock and then fire a 3 for the tie at the buzzer. If you're that guy, cool. Hats off to you, swashbuckler. But nobody does that.
Instead your only real plan has to be to shoot twice. You're going to inbound the ball once with 18 seconds left, and one more time, likely after you intentionally foul.
So, you should plan on two possessions. One with almost no time pressure, one with extraordinary time pressure. Don't you have to save a timeout for that later play?
Instead, the Pacers' coaching staff could only look on -- what could they do? No timeouts! -- as their team got a horrible shot with the game on the line.