July 12, 2019
By Grant Lindsley
Comebacks – Why teams must prepare to mount (and withstand) comebacks
After only two minutes of game play last Saturday, New York Empire was fighting an uphill battle against Philadelphia Phoenix. Not because of lightning delays, of which there were three, but because of execution errors. We dropped discs and threw them away in the first quarter as if we’d all dipped our fingers in butter before taking the field. By the end of the first quarter, we were lucky to be losing by only three goals, 4-7.
This wasn’t the first time Empire had played in a lopsided first quarter. The previous weekend in Montreal, the goal differential was six. In that case, the score was in our favor, but what’s noteworthy was that, by the third quarter of both games, the score was even, or at least close.
There’s a feeling in AUDL games that also crops up in the NBA, which is that no matter how lopsided the score is after the first quarter, it’s still anybody’s game. The four quarters are long enough for teams go on runs and counter-runs. Comebacks are almost always possible.
It almost seems like the score of the first quarter doesn’t matter.
Of course, that’s not actually true. The score of the first quarter does matter. All quarters carry equal weight. Points scored in the first quarter are just as valuable as points in the fourth.
But it didn’t feel like that in Philly. Lightning kept interrupting the momentum we tried to build for a comeback. During the second delay, we waited in our sauna of a locker room, sweating, checking our phones, and playing a game where we tried to bounce a lacrosse ball into the cone of an upright muscle roller.
On the one hand, time felt short. There was a sense of urgency, because we didn’t know if the weather would permit us to continue.
On the other hand, most games during this regular season have evened themselves out over the course of four full quarters. For example, the Empire had large leads and deficits against the DC Breeze this season, but each of our three games was eventually decided by a narrow margin of three goals or fewer. Only one of our 12 games was decided by more than five goals.
Part of the reason games may tend to even out is that the AUDL features offenses that shoot deep often. The style of play comes with costs and benefits. It’s prone to turnovers, which can open up opportunities for opposing teams to convert turns into goals. On the benefit side, hucking can expedite points. In other words, the same offense that can dig a hole can also help get out of one.
The length of games also plays a role. Even though AUDL games are shorter than they used to be thanks to this year’s game clock adjustment*, there’s still ample room for comebacks.
In the end, the game against Philly lasted three and a half hours through three lightning delays and four quarters (shout out to the fans who stayed the whole time). We needed every minute to dig ourselves out of the first quarter hole.
As Empire looks ahead to the playoffs, one lesson from the regular season is that hope is merited, even if we go down early. The other lesson: try not to go down early.
*With the exception of the end of quarters, the clock now starts at the release of the pull. In the past, the clock started with the catch of the pull. This seemingly small change considerably shortens games: if a standard game has 50 goals, and each pull hangs in the air for an average of six seconds, that amounts to 300 seconds, or five full minutes erased from the clock.