Thursday, March 10, 2011
Posted: 5 p.m.
By Marc Zumoff
Its one play, but there are two ways to look at it. And it actually happened twice this week to the 76ers.
The first time was Sunday. Up three points with 9.3 seconds remaining (and a foul to give no less), the Sixers elected not to take a foul. Instead, they relied on what they hoped would be solid defense to deny the Golden State Warriors their obvious intent -- to hit a three-pointer.
Although Monta Ellis knocked down the shot, the Sixers hung in to eventually win in overtime.
Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, another scenario arose. Up three points with 12.4 seconds left, they again elected to rely on their defense and not foul (this time, by the way, they did not have a foul to give). As fate would have it, Kevin Durant would hit a three-pointer to tie the game.
This time, however, the Sixers would lose in overtime.
The debate on whether or not to foul is not merely among fans. This is something that is also hotly debated among NBA cognoscenti as well. Coaches and general managers themselves differ sharply on whether to foul or not to foul in end-of-game situations.
And even among those who believe you should foul, theres the issue of how much time should be left on the clock before even considering it.
Working with a young team, Sixers coach Doug Collins is trying to put his players in the best possible late-game scenarios. Beset by too many weird late game losses this year (e.g. the two four-point plays at Orlando and Durants four-point play early in Wednesdays game) he probably figures his chances are greater by simply playing sound defense and seeing if the other team can make a shot in the closing seconds -- a shot that is typically made 36 percent of the time across the league this year (Durant is actually below average at .348).
When dissecting Wednesdays play, the Sixers failed to switch when Andre Iguodola was picked off while chasing Durant, allowing Durant his look. That said, perhaps the ball pressure on Russell Westbrook, the man who passed to Durant, could have been better.
Westbrook was standing in three-point territory. Getting in his face and chasing him would have helped. And even if he was forced to drive by and go to the hoop for two, it still wouldve left the Sixers up one.
Actually, if the Sixers had chosen to foul, Westbrook might have been the better choice. As Collins asserted postgame, trying to foul Durant could have put him at the line for three shots or, even worse, he gets fouled in the act of making the three, then setting up the dreaded four-point play.
Fouling Westbrook as soon as he caught the ball, perhaps, would have made more sense, provided it was done before he attempted a shot.
To some hoops aficionados, stopping the game and allowing a team thats trailing the opportunity to score is totally against sound basketball logic. The thinking is to simply play good defense and challenge the other team to essentially defy the odds.
In other words, dont help them.
That said, for those who do advocate intentionally fouling, its important to see how much time is left on the clock. To do so with 12 or nine seconds to play, as was the case with OKC and Golden State respectively, could open the door for a lot to go wrong.
With less time on the clock, however, the margin of error is reduced.
Suppose after OKC had gone to the line -- and presumably, made two free throws -- the Sixers proceeded to miss one or both of their subsequent free throws, or turn the ball over entirely. With less time on the clock, say three or four seconds, there is less time for something to go wrong.
But as I said at the start, there are two ways to see it.
E-mail Marc Zumoff at MarcZumoff@comcast.net