You always want to get off to a good start. We probably put too much emphasis on how our team starts games because we feel pressure and nerves early, and you want to feel comfortable. It’s great to get off to a comfortable lead, but I wonder if it affects the way you coach later in the game. Some of the worst games I’ve had as a coach came in games when we started off well and had a comfortable lead.
What I’ve found is when your team comes and and plays well early, you feel like you are in control of the game. I’m not saying you take winning for granted, but you feel like you are the better team when you have a comfortable lead. Your team was ready to play, the ball is going in, and as you move forward you feel like your team should win the game. And sometimes when you feel that way, you hesitate to make adjustments that might be necessary later on.
We had a game like that in Lima for the Pan Am games in pool play. We got off to a great start in the first quarter, hitting 9-12 3-pointers and building a 16-point cushion. We scored 57 points in the first half and were up 11 at halftime, and still had a double digit lead heading into the 4th quarter. We still felt comfortable, even the Puerto Rico had weathered the storm and stayed within striking distance despite our hot start.
When Puerto Rico went on a run early in the 4th quarter, all of the sudden we were in a tight game that we didn’t really think we were going to be in. Again, I don’t think we got complacent and took victory for granted. We kept playing. But they battled back and made the game close, and I think we started to get a little tight the way that can happen in games like that. We went from comfortably ahead to a being in a dogfight, and Puerto Rico had all the momentum.
Sometimes it’s harder to commit to making necessary changes in a game that you feel like you’ve controlled. You feel like you are the better team and you are playing well, and that if you just keep playing you’ll be fine. I’m not sure if we had made any adjustments in that Puerto Rico we would have won the game. But it made me think about games I looked back on as a head coach and realized I should have tried something different to change the momentum. When you are locked in to a tight game you are always thinking about adjustments and changes you need to make to win. It’s natural to think that way. It’s easy to be reluctant to make changes in a game where you’ve been in control and feel like you are the better team.
The worst feeling as a head coach is staring at the box score after a loss and realizing you should have done something different. Sometimes the beginning of the game can affect your approach. If you feel good about the way things are going, you might not be as quick to make adjustments. Be conscious of how you feel about the game when you are thinking about decisions. The way you expect a game to play out might keep you from doing what is necessary to actually win it.