Nick Nurse is getting a lot of criticism for the timeout he called late in the 4th quarter last night when his team was playing great, and, well, that’s life in the big leagues. He explained that NBA rule limiting the number of timeouts you can call in the final 3 minutes meant he would lose the timeout anyway, and he felt like his guys could use a little rest. Unfortunately for him, the Warriors seemed to need the rest even more and they regained control after the timeout to win the game and stay alive in the series. What felt like a Kawhi Leonard-led charge to a Raptors victory party turned into a stunning loss for Toronto, and the game definitely changed late after that timeout. If the Warriors find a way to win the series, that timeout will be remembered in Toronto forever.
When to call a timeout is a challenge, and it’s different in the NBA because of the rules. The “media” timeouts throughout the game get charged to each team at certain points, so you see a few more called timeouts that you might not expect because on the next whistle that team is going to get charged with a timeout anyway.
Conventional wisdom says you don’t call timeout when you have the momentum, when your guys are playing well. The team that is struggling calls timeout, and in this case the Warriors could not call timeout because they kept missing and the Raptors had the ball. But there are times where you see your team needs a timeout, and regardless of the flow of the game, it might be the right call.
I have called plenty of timeouts when our team was playing well because our guys were gassed, we needed to get a sub or two in the game, or the game was becoming really emotional and I wanted to bring them down a notch and make sure we kept our composure. A lot of times the game is getting a little wild and our guys are pretty tired, and I don’t want a sloppy turnover to result in a momentum swing the other way. And often I want our guys feeling good going into a timeout, instead of hanging their heads a bit because the other team is on an 8-0 run. A timeout can increase belief within your team and allow your guys to rest and come out stronger.
My guess is this is why Nick Nurse called timeout – the energy and emotion was off the charts, his guys were tired from the run and playing with all that energy, and… he had a timeout he was going to lose anyway. And we’ll never really know how much that third factor played into using it. Nick Nurse has done one of the best first-year coaching jobs in the history of sports, and deserves all the credit. I hope his reasoning was that he really felt like his team could benefit from a timeout, and not just the fact that he was going to lose it anyway.
We see it in college all the time. A team is up comfortably, playing well, and they call timeout with 30 seconds to go to set up their last possession, because they are going to lose it at halftime anyway. And you allow the other team to set their defense, sub if they want to, discuss what you are likely to run, and trap or switch defenses if they want. Cue the forced 3-pointer off of a top of the key ball screen.
Repeat it to yourself and your staff – “We don’t have to take a timeout just because we have one.” Take a timeout when it’s the right thing to do for your team, and that’s it. After games in my career I have regretted timeouts that I did NOT call way more than I’ve regretted timeouts that I called. There are plenty of nights where I stared at the box score and said “Why didn’t I call timeout there” when my gut was telling me I should. There are a lot fewer nights where I said “Man, I wish I DIDN’T call that timeout.” I regret the ones I didn’t call a lot more than the ones I did.
So when my gut is telling me “maybe we need a timeout here,” I usually call it. My guess (my hope?) is that Nick Nurse really felt calling timeout was the right thing to do for his team. My guess is he’s also questioning whether or not he should have done it. And if the Warriors win this series that question will bother him forever.