How to win close games: practice, luck and 'mirage'

Former NBA coach Jim O'Brien lays out his strategies for coaching end-of-game situations and winning the tight ones.

Originally Published: January 3, 2006
By Jim Obrien | ESPN Insider
There is nothing more exciting in sports than the last possession of an NBA game when the clock is ticking down and everyone knows the game is going to be determined in the last few seconds.

The entire crowd is on its feet with anticipation. A night's work is riding on the last play. Huddles must be focused and there can be no time for uncertainty. When the players hit the floor, they have to know precisely what it is that they have to execute. At the same time, improvisation is a necessity because few plays work perfectly, and no matter how prepared a defense is it never knows exactly what may be coming.

It's a time when it's great to have a clutch player who will get it done for you night in and night out. And it's a nightmare when the guy is on the other side.

Michael Jordan was almost impossible to stop when one shot would determine the game. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Larry Bird sat through a K.C. Jones huddle where K.C. drew up a play that would determine the outcome of the game. The story goes that he interrupted Coach Jones and said, "Forget that stuff, just get me the ball." They did. Guess who won?

Not every one has Jordan or Bird. But most teams have one or two guys who a coach will depend on in games determined in the last possession or two.

Offensive execution is of utmost importance in these situations. Every staff has to make sure ample practice time is given to be certain that their players get the job done at these crucial times. Much thought and preparation go into every aspect of end-of-game situations.

Many questions have to be addressed long before your team finds itself in a close game. There are so many potential scenarios that have to be talked out. Rarely should a coach go two consecutive practices without having a segment dedicated to preparing his team for this part of the game.

Every team I have coached really enjoys this part of practice. They almost enjoy it too much.

NBA players don't mind practice as long as you are keeping score and there will be a winner and a loser. In this segment of practice, you can play any number of mini-games.


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