Six years ago I was interviewing an NBA head coach (who shall remain nameless because the comment in the title of the post was made off the record). We hit it off pretty well and he kept talking well after my allotted ten minutes, so I began asking him stuff I’ve always wanted to ask coaches. One of the queries centered on why coaches so rarely substitute in overtime. It seems like unless a player collapses and is carted away in an ambulance then coaches stick with the lineup on the floor regardless of performance or situation dictates.
Coach paused after I asked (I didn’t cite the ambulance or anything like that). Then he said almost apologetically, “sometimes coaches get tired too.” He went on to talk about overtime games almost invariably involve a last shot scenario or two and other strategic maneuvers. “It’s draining. I mean it’s draining if you’re out there on the floor, but it’s draining if you’re on the sideline too.”
I thought about coach’s comments during the final minute of overtime of the Miami Heat’s 115-111 win over the Boston Celtics in game two of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. With 46 seconds to go Boston was down 110-105 and Miami had the ball. Boston didn’t foul intentionally. Boston had taken a timeout with 59 seconds to go to draw up a play that resulted in a missed Kevin Garnett jump shot, one assumes that they had marching orders for either a make or miss scenario. Instead, the Celtics let the Heat run more than 20 seconds off the clock, take a shot, get the rebound and then they resorted to fouling.
It was a crucial error. Facing a deficit with 46 seconds to go, you want to maximize the number of possessions your team has. In addition, the Heat shot a miserable 65.9% from the free throw line. One would think that say Ray Allen (who had only two fouls, would have been assigned to foul the ball handler asap. Instead, the clocked ticked away. When Boston finally did foul, the Heat missed only one of their six free throws yet Rajon Rondo, playing the best game of his NBA career (maybe his life, I only know him as a pro) sunk two three pointers to bring the Celtics back within hailing distance but the clock ran out on them.
Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe it was a missed communication from the bench. Maybe Rivers wasn’t tired; he did substitute Sasha Pavlovic for Brandon Bass in the final seconds in order to have as many perimeter shooters on the floor as possible.
Anyway, we’re halfway to a Heat-Spurs finals, though Boston’s game effort tonight showed that their defeat isn’t necessarily the forgone conclusion. They played well enough to win.