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How to Destroy Your Team's Momentum

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Watching the NBA Conference Finals and Finals has not only been very entertaining from a fan's standpoint but has also been very interesting from a coaching standpoint. One of the many things that have stood out is the number of momentum swings that seemingly take place throughout each game.

In game two of the Finals Miami jumped out to an 18-2 lead to start the first quarter yet OKC had a chance to tie the score with twelve seconds left on the clock. How does that happen? Let's look at some of the ways a team can completely lose all of its hard earned momentum.

  • Turnovers for touchdowns

    All turnovers are bad because they completely waste a scoring opportunity but "turnovers for touchdowns" (a turnover that leads to an immediate score by your opponent) are the worst of the worse. Travelling, three seconds, or even a pass thrown straight out of bounds give your opponent possession of the ball but at least you have the opportunity to set your defense before they attack. A bad pass that results in an uncontested layup (or dunk) can often be an instant momentum changer.

  • Taking bad shots

    Way too often teams with momentum on their side tend to become undisciplined in their shot selection and the results are usually disastrous. More times than not a shot is "bad" because the wrong player is shooting it. If momentum is on your side, chances are someone on your team has developed a "hot hand." That player needs to keep shooting! The other night Kevin Durant hit five straight shots to get OKC back into the game and then one of his Thunder teammates missed an ill advised shot and their scoring run was over. Just because a shot is open doesn't mean it's a good one!

  • Giving up 3's

    I see it happen all the time - a team on the verge of being blown out makes a couple of wide open three point shots, their collective confidence starts to increase and before you know it they are on a roll. Be especially aware of specific set plays coming out of a timeout and always make a concentrated effort to prevent any three pointers in the fourth quarter.

  • Giving up offensive rebounds and put backs

    Maintaining momentum is all about stops and scores. Few things kill momentum faster than playing great defense, watching your opponent clank a brick off the back of the rim and then putting the offensive rebound in for an easy score. To make things even worse, many offensive put backs result in three point plays after the closest defender fouls out of frustration.

  • Missing free throws

    Again stops and scores. Missing free throws limits your scoring opportunities and allows your opponent to get an extra stop. A player who cannot make free throws simply cannot play when maintaining momentum is a factor in winning the game. In the NBA Western Conference Finals the Thunder constantly fouled the Spurs' Tiago Splitter and used the resulting six missed free throws to stop momentum and get back in the game.

  • Technical Fouls

    Losing your cool and being assessed a technical foul can kill momentum as quick as or quicker than anything else. Depending on the situation a technical foul can easily initiate a five point swing, put a player in serious foul trouble, and alienate the officials. Granted, there are times when a technical foul might work in your favor when your opponent is riding a wave of momentum but to get a technical foul when you have momentum is asking for immediate trouble!

    The next time you watch a game, pay particular attention to teams going on a run and how those crucial momentum swings are started and ultimately stopped. I'm willing to bet that at least one of the 6 areas above are directly involved!

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