There is no one play that wins or loses a game for a team. But there are key parts of each game that can bring you closer to success. It is obvious that end of the game situations are very important in determining the final outcome. I always felt that the end of the second quarter and start of the third quarter were also very important in establishing momentum and that it was my job to make sure my teams were prepared.
For many years I noticed that some teams seemed to let down or relax during the last few minutes of the second quarter. The half was nearing its end and players were already headed to the locker room "in their heads." Therefore, if my team became more focused and were prepared to close out that quarter, they would have a tremendous advantage. Teams don't just close out quarters by themselves. You have to teach them how to do it.
We would always practice how to close out quarters, particularly for the second quarter. One strategy that worked for me was to throw in a little wrinkle at the very end that we hadn't shown yet during the game. This would come at a time when the other team was letting up. An example would be to go into a half court or full court press or even a run and jump press for the first time. This would accomplish a number of things.
First it would keep my players"on their toes" for the last two minutes, make them more aggressive, and give them a burst of energy just when the other team wasn't ready. There is nothing like going into the locker room after a flurry of two or three baskets to change the momentum of a game.
It also would give the opposing coach something extra to have to talk about at half time, preparation wise. He/she would now have to go over that half court press that he/she hadn't seen before and spend precious time on that, rather than on other things.
Meanwhile, I was trying to get my team ready to come out ready to start the third quarter at a high level. I always felt that the team that started the first three minutes of the third quarter would get a head start in establishing momentum toward the end of the game. The opposing team had been talking about beating that half court press they saw in the last few minutes and now we start out in a strong man to man or possibly a full court press. Talk about surprise! Either it would catch the other team unprepared or just frustrate them.
Part of every practice we held would include end of quarter situations and start of 3rd quarter situations. We were consistent in how we would start and finish so our teams were prepared for these crucial parts of the game. Of course we would also practice end of the game situations as well.
There are many plays that make up a game and no one play wins a game or loses it just like there is no one shot that wins or loses a game. But every game has its own flow or momentum. If your players are taught how to close out quarters, especially the second and fourth quarters, and start the first three minutes of the third quarter strong, it would give them a tremendous advantage. As a coach, I always tried to give them the tools, strategies, and preparation in practice to accomplish this.