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2/13/2020 9:50 am  #1

Up 3, Closing Seconds....

The question is far more obvious than the answer.  Do you intentionally foul in order to eliminate the chance at a game tying three point shot, or do you play defense?  Playing defense allows for playing an overly aggressive defense around the three point arc, making it more difficult than usual for a team to sink a 3.  However, the aggressive defense also carries the greater chance of unintentionally fouling a three point shooter. 

Fouling in this situation carries the risk of a crazy finish, just ask the UNC Tar Heels.  In case you didn't see it or hear about it, the Heels led Duke by 3 in the closing seconds when they chose to foul Tre Jones.  Jones made the first free throw and then executed the best deliberate miss that I have ever seen.  He shot the next free throw extremely hard off of the front rim, to the point where he knew exactly where the ball would carom.  Jones retrieved the miss, had a few seconds to dribble inside of the three point circle, and hit a jump shot to send the game to overtime.   It was a play that had to be practiced countless numbers of times at practice.  And while Duke won the game in typical fashion, through the assistance of a blatant non-call by an official to help seal the win, this does not take away from the incredible play Jones made.

So, along comes KenPom who wrote an article this week concerning this situation.  As is often the case, he made a brilliant point.  What would have prevented UNC from purposefully taking a lane violation, or really, repeated violations, in this situation?  A foul shooter receives another free throw attempt after a lane violation unless the foul shot is good.  Theoretically, you could have had a standstill with Duke repeatedly missing free throws on purpose while UNC would be taking repeated deliberate lane violations.  At some point, the refs would have to step in and decide something, but what?  My guess is that there is nothing in the rule book that addresses this precise situation.  

One step in the right direction would be for refs to actually enforce the intentional foul rule.  Too often, the team that is up 3 commits the foul by simply having a player run up to the opponent with the ball and place two hands on him as if to give him a minor push.  The fouler isn't even pretending not to foul intentionally.  In this situation, the team down 3 would receive two free throws plus the ball so it seems highly unlikely that the team in the lead would ever do this.

But, what if the fouler "makes it look good", by legitimately going for a steal but instead committing a foul?  On one hand, we could say the foul was not intentional.  On the other hand, the circumstances of the game would dictate that any foul committed by the team up 3 in the closing seconds would be intentional by definition.  Things are certainly murkier in this scenario.

There is no easy answer for how this end-of-game situation should be treated.  Now that KenPom went public with his lane violation idea, it's likely a matter of time before some team tries this.  Referees have likely spent this week talking about this.  If it's decided that a warning followed by a technical foul should be awarded, should it be given to the team purposefully missing free throws or to the team committing all of those lane violations.  Is one of these really a worse example of game strategy, or for that matter, of sportsmanship, than the other?

Any thoughts on how this should be handled in the future?



2/13/2020 6:47 pm  #2

Re: Up 3, Closing Seconds....

It's definitely an interesting situation, and it would be helpful if there were statistics that show how successful each scenario is (I'm sure KenPom has the numbers). I'd imagine that there is a far larger sample size of the winning team fouling than playing the opposition straight up. When the winning team elects not to foul, how often does the opposition actually make a three? How often does the losing team decide to just get an easy layup and then foul the winning team (based on how much time is left)?

I think part of the fear of deciding not to foul the losing team comes from (as you've mentioned) fouling them on a three by mistake rather than them making a three on their own. Fouling and sending the team to the line quite honestly requires a lot from the losing team psychologically to pull the game out - making the free throw might be the easiest part, but "looking ahead" to the next attempt can cause the first shot to be potentially missed - effectively making the situation that much harder. Of course, the intentional missed attempt is harder to pull off. I'm sure the statistics show low success rates, but at this point I wouldn't be surprised if there were angles/places on the floor the ball is most likely to land after it bounces off the rim. I'd be curious to know if in the successful cases the free throw shooter gets the rebound more often than any other guy on the team. After that, the losing team still has to convert on a shot to tie (or win) the game. This can be prepared ahead of time in practice, but again there's no preparing that can be done operating under pressure.

Two things also need to be considered in this situation. The first thing to take into consideration is how much time is left on the clock. Teams might foul regardless, but if there is just a few seconds left teams might be less likely to foul than in situations where there is almost a full 30 seconds left, where the losing team has nearly the full clock to run a set play. The other thing to consider is how many fouls the winning team has - obviously if they have fouls to give in that situation, they will use them. It's also situations like this where the "act of shooting" rule can also be manipulated by the losing team, although I would say in most situations the refs make the right call. I'll also throw in where the ball is on the court is a factor as well - if the losing team is in the backcourt, does the winning team let them run some clock before committing the foul (might lead to a risk of fouling on a three, but provide less time for a team to get another good shot off after the missed free throw).

I thought the lane violation thing was more for laughs than anything else - I don't see what the winning team gains by doing this, unless they truly have a "playing not to lose" mentality. It's unlikely that a missed free throw/lane violation would continue forever as I'm sure one team would concede (I'd love to see a game like that though). The fact is if you give up an offensive rebound and putback it's because you didn't box out well. Part of it is luck and there will always be a bit of that in these situations. For the winning team, it is probably still worth doing this rather than play straight up given the number of things that have to go right.

The intentional foul thing I'm not really a fan of, especially when it comes on a technicality of deficit margin. Fouling up three is just a wise strategy for the winning team that shouldn't be taken away from them. It's almost like saying you can't continuously foul the center on the team because they are terrible from the line. When a losing team is down by many points and they foul it isn't any different, and if they are fouling the winning team back when down 3 or fewer points, the game is effectively over in this case (I guess you could say that shortens the unnecessary back and forth fouling at the end of many games, but the losing team has no chance to pull off a miracle if this was enacted).

I like the technical foul a bit more, but still feel it won't be needed. It should only be called if the winning team is charged with a lane violation (let's say after the second lane violation to account for situations where it happens by mistake). The team intentionally missing the free throw again shouldn't be charged for being strategic. As mentioned earlier, this shouldn't happen though because there is no incentive for the winning team to prolong a game in which they are already winning.

Here is the moment mentioned:



2/14/2020 9:36 am  #3

Re: Up 3, Closing Seconds....

DMVPiranha, a few comments:

1) The lane violation on purpose (sounds a bit like the accidental text on purpose for you Curb Your Enthusiasm fans) wouldn't be for laughs nor would it be intended to prolong the game.   It would be a strategy that takes away the deliberate missed free throw.  When you think about it, both missing a free throw on purpose and deliberately taking a lane violation(s) go against the grain with respect to how the game should be played.  Both can be considered disingenuous yet both make sense where it comes to overcoming a small deficit or protecting a small lead.

2) What I've suggested regarding intentional fouls admittedly takes us into very dangerous territory.  When a team is up three and fouls, there is a great likelihood that the foul is intentional.  When a defender rushes over to a guy with the ball and shoves him with 2 hands, this is obviously intentional yet this is never called as an intentional foul. (The same is true when the team that's behind does the fouling.)  However, let's say that the team that's ahead decides to foul (to eliminate a game tying three point shot attempt) by legitimately going for a steal but ends up making contact with the opponent, is this still an intentional foul?  The literal answer is likely to be yes, but I can't see how a ref can make an intentional foul call when the player clearly makes a play for the ball.  This borders on asking refs to legislate against intent which really might be the right thing to do but which officials in all sports are reluctant to do.

     Thread Starter

2/16/2020 8:13 am  #4

Re: Up 3, Closing Seconds....

1) Fair enough. I will go back to what I said earlier in that the team committing the lane violations over and over again get the technical if they do it more than once to take into consideration a violation that truly happens to be accidental. This is somewhat of a philosophical conversation, but how does one prove the losing team is missing the free throws by mistake (especially late in the game when the game is close)? Might be a weak argument, but I still don't think the missing a free throw strategy should be taken away from the losing team because it's no different from the foul committed by the winning team. It would appear that committing consecutive violations would be more intentional given how rare violations actually occur. I'm quite surprised that there's never been a rule for that (credit Ken for catching that) but if a team commits consecutive lane violations, that should always be a technical regardless of situation.

2) I think we both agree that calling an intentional foul based on margin and case-specific situations leads to questionable territory. When there's no way to distinguish accidental and intentional contact, such a system wouldn't appear plausible.


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