Most Important Part Of An NBA Game

The old basketball joke is about as stale and unfunny as the old hockey joke. You know the two:

“I went to the fights last night and a hockey game broke out.”

“You see the last five minutes of a pro basketball game, you’ve seen the whole thing.”

Done laughing yet? Thought so.

In the case of the oh-so-savvy hoops observation, it barely requires a response. Yeah, nothing that happens in the preceding 43 minutes could possibly impact the outcome. Whatever’s going on at the end, that’s what transpired from the start. No shifts in strategy. No adjustments to one man’s hot hand or another man’s foul trouble. So on and so forth.

It’s drivel on its face. And while we’re not looking to give those who don’t like the NBA (no, we won’t resort to “haters”) any ammo, a strong case could be made Saturday that the first five minutes dictated more outcomes than the final five.

Good or bad starts propelled or doomed teams to their eventual destinations by the end of the night.

Of the 10 games played, six of them were won by the team that won the first quarter. That’s mere heads-or-tails territory. But within that, there were starts that dictated the rest of the evening:

  • In Washington, the Wizards’ starters came out disjointed and dug their team a huge hole. They made only one of their first 14 shots and trailed 17-2 in what became an 89-86 loss to Boston. “Our starts are so bad, you don’t know if you’re ever going to see daylight again,” coach Randy Wittman said. “I didn’t know if the sun was coming up tomorrow.” Wittman’s team, it must be noted, is missing starters John Wall and Nene, both out with injuries.
  • Same game, Boston coach Doc Rivers went with rookie Jared Sullinger in the starting lineup, supplanting Brandon Bass. Sullinger scored two early baskets and, considering the results, might make that spot his own.
  • In Chicago, where the Bulls were facing a Hornets team that was without both Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, they fell behind 10-2. While they eventually caught up, the Bulls never truly caught fire; they shot 33 percent and didn’t go hard at the altered New Orleans frontcourt.
  • In Los Angeles, the Clippers spotted Golden State a 9-0 lead through the game’s first three minutes. That prompted play-by-play man Ralph Lawler to say of coach Vinny Del Negro: “Yikes, it’s 9-0. Vinny showing no signs of flinching or blinking on the bench.” The Warriors still led by nine when the first quarter ended, en route to a four-point victory.

So maybe cynics should modify their write-off of the NBA. Sometimes it isn’t just the last five minutes. Sometimes it’s the first five minutes. Sometimes it’s more than that.

Lots of coaches talk about the first and last five minutes of halves. Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau is one of them – particularly after the Bulls started badly and exited the second quarter horribly, giving up a 9-0 run that wiped out their last lead of the night.

Said Thibodeau: “There are four parts of the game we talk about you always have to take care of: The first five minutes of the game, the last five minutes of the second quarter, the first five minutes of the second half and the last five minutes of the game. We failed in the first five and the last five of the second quarter. And that really was the game. We were chasing the whole second half and it was tough on us.”

So now we’re up to 20 minutes out of the 48 in a standard NBA game. And even that doesn’t account for those nights when a sixth man enters late in the first quarter or early in the second and sparks a 12-4 run. Or something similar from a bench unit deep into the third quarter.

So we’ll put it to you: What are the most important parts of an NBA game? Is there any pattern in terms of the most vital 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes that matter most, night in, night out?



  1. Kamote says:

    Of course the last 5 minutes of the game separates winners from losers. However, I always think that the critical parts of the game are:
    1) The closing 5 minutes or the quarter – shows how the players and especially the coach will react when the opposing team started the game hot.
    2) The start of third – after a locker room pep talk, this would determine if a leading team can maintain their lead throughout, or if the trailing team can still comeback. Most movies use this as the most dramatic scene, next to the winning shot LOL.
    3) Which I think is the most important, is the start of the 4th period. The drama behind the last 5 minutes of the game is set up by this. If leading teams can pound and demoralize the opposing teams at the start to midway on the 4thQ, then the game is over. But if the opposing team senses that they can still make a comeback, then the drama is set for an epic last 5 minutes.

  2. kevin nicholls INDIANAPOLIS says:


  3. jaoromero says:

    for me, the game doesn’t begin until the second half. that’s when good teams really burn the other team. 3rd quarters are where leads usually balloon. after half time is when you’ll usually see which team made the better adjustment.

    as far as controlling the game, coaches should call time outs when:

    opposing team ties the score or they lose the lead
    10-0 run for the opposing team

  4. Ben says:

    The way I’ve always read that saying is that the last 5 minutes is time to finish off what you spent the first 43 building. It’s not that the last 5 are everything there is to a game (and frankly – I couldn’t get into a game at that point anyway, much better to watch the whole story unfold). But I do think that last 5 minutes is the most important mentally. There really is truth to the concept of ‘clutch’ and that truth is about the fact that there is more mental pressure on in those final 5 minutes.

    I’d be hard pressed to buy your argument that Boston won the game over Washington in the first 5, not the last 5, or that the start was more important. Sure, they were 17-2 up, but then they weren’t up any more, and when the score is back to level what you have is mounting mental pressure. I don’t think you can say that if Boston had only won that same period 12-2, that Washington would have won 86-84. You can only play the game that is in front of you, and it shouldn’t be discounted that even if Boston had gotten up 24-2, the final result would still have been tight. What determined the outcome is who played better when the scores were level and the pressure was on at the end.

  5. Belizeboy says:

    Last night the Clippers started off poorley and came back. Would have won it if the refs weren’t so bias. Ball goes off the GS Warriors back and it’s still their ball? My point with that and this article is the entire game is important and only when you give up, will you lose. Clips won that game in terms of my respect because GS was executing their offense better and had more energy, but LA kept in it and did not just lay down. Like I said, would have been a V if not for the bogus calls in GS favor.

  6. John says:

    I’ve been watching the NBA for half my life and I agree with the statement. The point is that 82 game regular season is too many for players to give 100% effort every minute of every game. So players coast, don’t play hard defense, etc. It’s not their “fault” per se…they could be worn out from a back-to-back for example. Regardless, if you watch the last 2 minutes last 5 minutes or last 12 minutes at best, you pretty much have a good idea of what happened the first 36+ minutes. If it’s a blowout, then it’s not worth watching the rest of the game. Sure, maybe 1 time out of 50, the team will come back, but 49/50 times, it’ll be a boring. If it’s a close game, then yea, it’s worth watching. Sure, maybe one team was down by 20 after the 1st quarter and tied it up by half time…that’s not “interesting” by itself though because it’s only half time. It just sets up an interesting second half.

    If the game was only 12 minutes instead of 48 minutes long, it would have the same entertainment value…people would try 4x as hard, every point would matter, you wouldn’t have to put up with as many timeouts/commercials, etc. As you can see, I’m a little cynical at the league.

    • me says:

      if it wer 12 mins instead 48 mins, it will have more value ….but that would be unfair to most teams