Late Lineup Decision Got Game Off to a Bad Start

Lots to say about the game 3 blowout and much of it will be said well by other bloggers.  As you know, my main focus is on the mental side of sports performance and something that happened before game 3 must NOT happen again before game 4.  Since it’s a possibility, I’m writing about it here.

Any player who is a game time decision cannot start that game.  Period.  Here’s why and how it got game 3 off on the wrong foot.

Players and teams have their own rituals to get ready for a game.  A player will eat at the same time on game days, take a nap at the same time on game days, etc.  The team will be at the arena at the same time before games, have pre-game meetings at the same time, etc, etc, etc.  The end result of these rituals is supposed to be enough confidence, certainty, focus, and energy to play and win the game. 

For many players, a change in routine is a major deal (see Boston’s Ray Allen, for example).

What happened tonight was that the Knicks didn’t know who was going to start until a few minutes before the game.  That means that they were “uncertain” about who was going to play and that’s the opposite of “certain”.  They weren’t able to focus because they were waiting for a major piece of news.  And instead of having the normal amount of time and normal sequence of events that would lead to that focus and certainty, they were forced to try to get ready to play in just a couple of minutes.

Emotions carry over unless specifically changed, so the uncertainty that they were feeling about the starting lineup carried over into being uncertain about their decisions in the first quarter.  They played like they were uncertain and got buried in the first 12 minutes.  Missed shots, bad passes, lots of fouls, etc.  All the things you’d expect an uncertain team to do.

No matter who it is, if it’s not known by the normal time to announce a starting lineup if a player can play, then the starting lineup must be chosen from the available players.  If a star is finally ready at game time, he can be subbed in a minute after the tap.  By announcing the starters when the team expects them to be announced, it greatly reduces the chance for a start like tonight’s game had for the Knicks.  Had they played with more certainty in the first quarter, the fourth quarter would have had a lot of meaning in determining who won the game.

And since I’m on this track, they actually scored one less point in the third quarter (19) than they did in the first quarter (20).  It’s very possible that they were uncertain if Amar’e could start the third and the team’s halftime ritual got messed up while they were waiting to find out who was going to start the half.

Easy enough to do this.  And potentially series-ending if they don’t.

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