The role of initial success in competition: An analysis of early lead effects in NBA overtimes

Elia Morgulev, Ofer H. Azar, Yair Galily, Michael Bar-Eli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several prior studies have shown that success during fierce sport competitions may put extra pressure on teams that lag behind and boost performance of teams that experience success. In basketball, games that are tied at the end of regulation time proceed to 5 min overtime. An overtime is a particularly stressful situation because players are both physically and mentally exhausted, the score is equal and each point "counts". We test whether an early lead at the beginning of overtime produces any psychological advantage beyond the objective advantage of being one basket ahead. To do so we collected data from NBA games and compared the effect that a tie-breaking basket had on the winning probability in games that were tied at the 43rd min with 5 min to play with that of a tie-breaking basket at the beginning of overtime. Analyses of winning probabilities and regression models in which the relative strength of the teams, home advantage and additional factors were accounted for yielded the same result, that there is no evidence for a unique effect caused by an early lead at the beginning of overtime, and its effect is the same as that of scoring first after a tie in the 43rd min. This suggests that scoring first in overtime does not provide a unique psychological advantage.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number101547
JournalJournal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Basketball
  • Decision-Making
  • Momentum
  • Psychological Advantage
  • Stress

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Applied Psychology
  • General Social Sciences


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