Neophyte basketball fans often wonder why the end of a game takes so long. The question inevitably arises, why are they fouling so much? That team isn’t going to catch up, are they?
There’s a simple answer as the losing team is not just playing the other team, they are also playing against the clock. They have to catch up in a limited amount of time and on occasion, it works. When they aren’t able to steal the ball but foul in the process, it stops the clock, time is preserved and if the team shooting free throws is inefficient, there is an opportunity for a comeback by the team that is trailing.
But what happens if you are down big in the fourth quarter, like the Houston Rockets were in their game a few nights ago against the Los Angeles Lakers. Heck, don’t wait for the end of the game, start employing the strategy in the middle of the fourth quarter. And it’s bonus if you’re the Rockets and you don’t have to chase the ball to foul and stop the clock. Just grab the guy on the court who you can’t miss, Dwight Howard. He stands about seven feet tall and can’t make free throws. It serves the purpose, right? You stop the clock and there is a pretty good chance as a career 58.4% free-throw shooter that you may not fall but one point further behind and you may even escape without any damage being done.
For the record, this season, heading into Friday’s contest with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Howard has missed 112 of his 211 attempts at the line putting him at a career-low 46.9% for the season. To make matters worse for the Lakers, in the fourth quarter of games this season, Howard has missed 42 free throws, more than any other player in the NBA. The next closest players, Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough who has missed 10 fourth quarter foul shots and Denver’s Ty Lawson who has misfired on nine attempts in the final period, are not even close to Howard’s inefficiency.
However, the NBA may run into a problem with this strategy. What happens to the entertainment portion of the game? The NBA will not be happy if a game deteriorates into a free throw shooting contest between bad foul shooters. But it can be a copycat league and if it works for one team, expect to see others try it, not just with Howard but with other players as well. The Toronto Raptors employed a touch of that strategy against Denver when they went after JaVale McGee and fouled him away from the ball in an attempt to slow the Nuggets. The other impact this ploy has is seen on a team’s offense as the flow is totally disrupted. In the case of the Lakers, it means Kobe Bryant can’t get his hands on the ball and work his magic.
The twitter-sphere informed me, and I didn’t hear it for myself, that during the Hornets-Lakers matchup, the very next game for Los Angeles after the debacle in Houston, Commissioner David Stern said he would like to see the rule that gives a team two free-throws and retention of the ball inside the last two minutes of the final quarter extended to the rest of the game as well.
Back in the old days the NBA, like the present day NFL and NHL, in an attempt to promote offense with rule changes, made it very punitive for teams that fouled a player in the back court. It was an automatic two shot foul if you dared to slow the game by pressing and fouling before the opposing team advanced the ball past half court. Even when there were free throws, a shooting foul was three chances to collect your two points in the old three to make two era.
But the bigger question is, with Stern discussing a potential rule change, why is this not an "intentional" foul? The NBA does not call it that, but what is it when you foul a player that is nowhere close to the play? In international basketball situations like that yield two shots and the ball and the same happens at other levels of basketball.
Give NBA coaches credit. If that’s the rule and there is a loop hole in which you can gain an advantage, then use it as often as you can to swing the game in your favour. When does it backfire? When the obvious happens, and players like Dwight Howard start to do what many people think he and many other players should be doing, make free throws. I suppose a coach could always insert another player in that spot that can make foul shots but that would be too easy.
I’m not buying this argument about Howard’s foul shooting woes due to the size of his hands and the like. Bah, foolishness. Yao Ming was an 83.3% free-throw shooter, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson made foul shots at a 74% clip in their respective careers. Sorry not buying it. Howard needs to get into the gym and practice. His flawed technique has more to do with his struggles than anything else but that’s a more technical discussion for another musing. If he had proper shooting technique he would be more dangerous with a "face up" or a turnaround jump shot with the ball over his head that would make him truly dominant.
Made foul shots are not sexy and don’t pass that eye test in the NBA game particularly in Hollywood. Yep, guess what’s coming, a rule change, and of course, for entertainment purposes only.