Crying foul down the stretch 

The evidence is in. When you’re up three points late in a game and the other team has the ball, you have to foul. You have to.

It’s happened too many times now, when a team trailing by three knocks down a tying shot from beyond the arc to send the game into overtime. The better alternative: Foul before the shot.

As improbable as making a last-second 25- or 30-footer might be, more improbable is the opponent making a first free throw, purposely missing the second, then that player’s team getting the rebound and scoring again to tie the game. That is a rare scenario.

What does occur, far too often, is that a team leading by three points allows the opponent to shoot a 3-pointer to tie the game, and then loses in overtime.

That’s what happened on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament game between Ohio State and Xavier, with the latter leading by three with nine seconds remaining. With the Buckeyes advancing the ball in a hurry upcourt, Xavier didn’t think to foul and Ron Lewis proceeded to bury a 28-footer to tie it. As often happens, the team that made the game-altering shot, (Ohio State), won in OT.

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Same situation happened twice to the Warriors last season.

In a game against the Rockets, withHouston down three and inbounding near midcourt, a pass came to Yao Ming. The Warriors elected not to foul Yao, and he found an open Luther Head, who made a game-tying 3. Houston won in the extra period.

Later that season, the Warriors were up three against Utah, didn’t foul and Matt Harpring made a game-tying shot with 1.4 seconds remaining. Again, the Warriors lost in overtime.

Just last week in a game between Dallas and Phoenix, with the Suns up three points, the Mavericks advanced the ball into the frontcourt. Jason Terry proceeded to make a 3-pointer with four seconds left to send the game into a second overtime. In this one, the Suns did end up prevailing. But still.

Not so long ago, there seemed to be debate on this issue. Many defended the strategy not to foul by saying: "You get one stop, you win the game."

The problem is that you don’t get that one stop enough. Or, put it this way: You get it a lesser percentage of the time than if you’d foul and take your chances.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult to defend against a team that you know must shoot a 3-pointer. Seems to me you should simply form a defensive umbrella around the arc with four players and keep one additional defender lingering in the lane.

Apparently, it’s not that easy. If it were, more teams would do it. But since they don’t — or can’t — the only alternative is to foul.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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