The NBA basketball championship playoffs are currently underway. Even though the Cleveland home team the Cavaliers are the defending champions, I am not a basketball fan and have not watched any of the games so far. Part of the problem is that it is a very fast moving game (when it is not stopped for timeouts and the like which are the bane of American sports but allow for plenty of commercials) and I do not know the finer points of tactics and strategy to fully appreciate what is going on.
But when I have watched a game at the homes of others who are fans, I have been annoyed by the fact that towards the end of a game, the losing team often deliberately commits a foul on their opponents if the latter looks to be on the verge of getting a basket. This results in that fouled player getting two free throws and the thinking seems to be that there is a chance that at least one of the free throws will miss, resulting in that team getting just one point or less instead of the two for getting the basket. This tactic is used widely and results in the end of the game getting dragged out, as foul after foul is committed and the foul throws are set up. The last twenty seconds of actual playing time can last as much as 10 minutes in real time.
I think it is wrong that it should ever be considered advantageous to deliberately break the rules in any game. If players and teams seem to think it a good idea, it means that the penalty is not stiff enough. Clearly teams in basketball think that the payoff is worth it but one fan Nick Elam has studied this so-called comeback strategy and says that it almost never achieves its goal of enabling the losing team to mount a comeback.
Elam has tracked thousands of NBA, college, and international games over the last four years and found basketball’s classic comeback tactic — intentional fouling — almost never results in successful comebacks. Elam found at least one deliberate crunch-time foul from trailing teams in 397 of 877 nationally televised NBA games from 2014 through the middle of this season, according to a PowerPoint presentation he has sent across the basketball world. The trailing team won zero of those games, according to Elam’s data.
That undersells the effectiveness of the strategy, of course. Elam’s sample doesn’t include most NBA games. There were a lot of instances in which fouling teams came from behind to tie games, but lost later.
Elam has a suggestion for a better, more dynamic way to end the games, rather than the intentional foul that slows things down interminably.
Under Elam’s proposal, the clock would vanish after the first stoppage under the three-minute mark in the NBA and the four-minute mark in NCAA games. Officials would establish a target score by taking the score of the leading team and adding seven points — then restart the game without a clock. The team that reaches that target score first wins.
In simpler terms: If the Clippers lead the Jazz 99-91 when Rudy Gobert hacks DeAndre Jordan with 2:55 left, the game then becomes a race to 106 points. Utah must outscore the Clippers 15-6 to win.
The appeal was simple to Elam. He loves basketball, and he would like to see more of it. The start-and-stop hacking at the end of close games isn’t basketball. A trailing team could never use that strategy under Elam’s system; they would be giving away points to a rival that needed only seven to win. They would have to play real two-way basketball, and play it really, really well over a condensed period. Most games would end in baskets — exciting!
The only people who benefit from the current system are advertisers who can cram a lot of ads into the last moments of the game when people are watching most raptly. Hence I think the rule will not be changed since whatever the game, money is always the winner.
Except for curling, perhaps the last sport that is played in the true spirit of sportsmanship at even the highest levels, where, as fellow FtB blogger Intransitive explained (when commenting here under the pseudonym leftOver1under) deliberately fouling your opponent would be an unthinkable breach of etiquette.
Unlike many strategic games, curling isn’t a game of secrets. You could tell your opponent your team’s entire strategy before the game begins and it wouldn’t matter. What matters and determines who wins is who makes the shots. People often deride the game as “shuffleboard on ice”, but it would be more accurate to say it’s like baseball pitchers throwing curve balls three times as far, at a space a quarter of the size.
The other great thing about curling is the sportsmanship. It’s a game where players police themselves, where cheating and bad sportsmanship are frowned upon and quickly pointed out, even by players’ own teammates (with very rare exceptions). There are referees, but they are rarely involved except when measuring the rocks’ distance in the house. Even the fans will get involved, getting vocal when a player “burns” (touches) a rock or does something unethical (e.g. blocking another player’s attempt to sweep rocks). Teams will take notice of fan reactions.
Here is an introduction to the game.
I watched a curling match during the Olympics and noticed that, not knowing the rules at that time, I could only hazard a guess as to whether any given ‘curl’ (is that even correct?) was good or not because the players did not give any clue. They did not whoop or holler or pump their fists or beat their chests or taunt their opponents or genuflect or point to the skies to thank their god, the routine antics in football that so disgust me.
Stephen Colbert tells us about an innovation that is threatening to rock the world of curling.