By Don Kelbick
Here in the land of “LeBronica” (formerly know as Miami), a Miami Heat game is occasion to reinvent the game. Nowhere, in my memory, has a team been over-analyzed, over dissected, reconstructed and otherwise ridiculously evaluated.
Each loss is a reason to fire the coach and break up the team. Each win is a reason to cancel the rest of the season and hand them a championship.
The latest evaluation is the fact they are 5-14 (at this writing) in “close” games (decided by 5 points or less) and 1-19 when taking the last shot for the game (keep in mind that some of the games were tied and went into overtime).
While that statistic might be true, keep in mind that in this world there are 3 kinds of people, liars, damn liars and statisticians. Statistics like that are useless unless put in some type of context. As I listen to the radio every day, watch ESPN, NBATV and other analysts discuss their ideas, as usual, mine are different.
I have sat in countless coaching meetings, listening to coaches massage their egos with statistics, trying to find reasons for wins and losses. Usually the answer is not found in statistics. I remember Jim Valvano, the late great NC State coach and TV broadcaster telling me a story about the football team when he was the athletic director at NC State. Their team had just been beaten 44-3. In the press conference, the Head Football coach was answering questions about the loss in the press conference with, ”I don’t know. I have to look at the film.” Valvano stood up in the back of the room and said, “I’ll tell you what happened and I don’t have to watch the film.” The coach said, “Okay, what happened?” Valvano said, “You got your ass kicked!” Sometimes it is just that simple.
In evaluating teams, others will evaluate results. As coaches and players, we should evaluate process. Statistics (and score is a statistic), are meaningless unless we relate them to something. Is losing at the buzzer by missing a shot really losing a close game? Maybe you think that is a strange question. But, let’s look a little deeper.
In examining the Heat’s close losses look like this. Against the Knicks, they had a 23 point lead in the third quarter, lost by 3. Against Orlando, had a 24 point lead in the 3rd quarter, lost by 2. Against the Bulls, had a 12 point lead deep into the 4th quarter, lost by 2. Against Utah, had a 23 point lead in the 3rd quarter, lost by 4 in overtime. In fact, in 11 of their 14 loses, they had double digit leads deep in the 2nd half. Now you tell me, are those really close games?
I am not evaluating the Heat’s play, players, coaches or anything else. Nor am I criticizing the evaluators. What I am saying is you have to look beyond the final score to get at what the real problems are.
Last second shots are rare. Some go in, some don’t. Walk into a gym, pick up a ball and throw it at the basket. Some will go in, some won’t. It is not an indicator of talent or ability. But when you consistently have the same problem, and it is a bigger problem but not a bigger situation, true causes, effects and fixes are often hidden. It seems to me, if the Heat are able to get at the cause of losing such large leads consistently, what happens at the end of the game will straighten itself out.
In the Orlando game, they were outscored 41 – 19 over the last 14 minutes of the game. That is not very good play. So, was the fact that they missed the game tying jumper indicative of not being able to play in the last minute or was it just a continuation of the poor play over the last 14 minutes. Though we try, we really can’t isolate the last minute or 30 seconds or 10 seconds from the rest of the game. When you have missed 12 shots in a row, why do you expect you will hit number 13? Because it is the last one? When you have played poorly for 13 minutes and 50 seconds, why would you be surprised by playing poorly in the last 10 seconds?
I am not talking about the belief that the next shot will go in. We all have to have that belief or we can’t play. I am talking about evaluating the game and improving your team. If you have not screened well the whole game and you miss the last shot, don’t work on last second plays, work on screening. If you haven’t defended over the last 10 minutes of the game and miss the last shot, don’t fix your offense, fix your defense.
Here is the danger in evaluating the result instead of the game. I was listening to an interview with Chris Bosh after the Chicago lost. In this game, they missed a box out on a defensive foul shot and Mike Miller fouled on the rebound giving the Bulls 2 foul shots for the game. Bosh said it is difficult to get over the fact that they missed 1 box out and it cost them the game. No Chris! You lost because you lost a 12 point lead with 5 minutes to go by taking bad shots and turning the ball over. That is why the last play was significant. Not a bigger problem but a bigger situation. If they hadn’t lost the 12 point lead, the last play is incidental.
By focusing on the last play, the bigger, more consistently occurring issues will never get solved.
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