Late-minute timeouts provide glimpse into postseason fervor
Before Nuggets coach
Last Saturday, Dantley coached his first game in the playoffs, in which every timeout is a summit. The image of the NBA coach scribbling hieroglyphics on a grease board while players scrutinize the markings like directions on a treasure map is as much a part of the postseason as white towels swirling in the stands. In a first-round series like Nuggets-Jazz, which pits two teams with identical records against each other, the slightest strategic advantage can make the ultimate difference. In other words, plays called during timeouts need to yield points.
Late in the third quarter Denver trailed Utah 82--79, and Dantley had every reason to freeze again.
Dantley blocked out the distractions, checked his list and found what every coach is looking for: a way to get his best player the ball against an inferior defender.
NBA players sit through more than 1,000 timeouts every regular season, the vast majority of which feature lectures on taking better care of the ball and getting back more quickly in transition. "Guys get a little brain-dead," said Knicks coach
The spike in intensity from regular season to playoffs is perhaps most evident in the body language during timeouts. "In the regular season you call a play in a timeout and you sometimes have to ask, 'You got it?'" D'Antoni said. "In the playoffs you don't have to ask. They're foaming at the mouth." Huddles get tighter. Coaches yell louder. Players listen closer. "What happens during a timeout," said
The NBA is a players' league, with its freelanced fast breaks and improvised alley-oops, but the timeouts belong to the coaches. While Sloan immediately takes a knee in front of his bench, the Lakers'
Coaches like to mull over their options and generally wait until 30 seconds remain to call their chosen play. Karl's pet play is Hammer, in which a ball handler drives the baseline and a big man sets a back screen on the weak side, setting up a three-pointer in the far corner. Late in games, coaches will often take a set they've run all night and give it a twist to cross up the defense. "Let's say we've been running a play where I pick for you and you shoot," said D'Antoni. "Now maybe we'll run a variation that looks the same, but instead of me picking for you, you back-pick for me and I go in for the lob."
The most memorable timeouts are the ones that produce plays no one has ever seen before.
The easiest way to evaluate coaches is in the possession immediately following a timeout. "I've always felt that's when you earn your money," said TNT analyst and former NBA coach
Timeouts are not always strategic. They can be instructional (reminding a shooter to bend his knees), motivational ("Give me one f------ stop!") and playful (D'Antoni once told an opposing player, "I hope they leave you in the game because I'm drawing this one up just for you"). In the waning moments of blowouts they can involve dinner plans. Former NBA coach
The timing can be as important as the message. "Phil Jackson lets his teams play through a lot of stuff," said former Knicks and Rockets coach
Each team gets six full timeouts per game, plus two 20-second timeouts, and in the playoffs that's not always enough. In the classic first-round series between the Bulls and the Celtics last season, Chicago's rookie coach,
Just signaling for a timeout can be tricky. In Game 5 of the 1976 Finals,
Players are not supposed to take charge of timeouts, but some get overcome, like Celtics forward
In last-minute timeouts egos are on the line as much as games.
The NBA has done more than any major sport to bring the viewer into the huddle. Three years ago senior vice president of broadcasting
Carelli had the support of Mavericks coach
Carlisle does not offer as many options on defense. In Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals last season, the Mavs led the Nuggets by two with eight seconds left and had a foul to give. Carlisle and his assistants told the players, "Foul, foul, foul." Guard
With so much emphasis on play-calling, defense after timeouts can be overlooked. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Magic was the second-best team this season on offense and defense after timeouts, a tribute to coach
There aren't many surprises, especially at this stage of the season. With the game on the line