BALL DON’T COMPLY: WHEN AN NBA SHUTOUT COMES AS NO SURPRISE

March 15, 2016
Nicholas Patrick

In the latest installment of the study of basketball’s endgame, the NBA failed to deliver a single nationally-televised game that included a foul-a-thon that was remotely fruitful, or a single nationally-televised game that ended with a meaningful made basket.

The hybrid duration format described here would benefit the great game of basketball in many ways, primarily by eliminating repeated deliberate fouling from basketball, and by guaranteeing that every game ends with the swish of a net, not the blare of a horn.

This particular sample includes each of the 43 nationally-televised NBA games played from February 15, 2016 – March 13, 2016 (three of these games proceeded to overtime, so 46 total 4th quarter/overtime periods are considered), and each of the 71 NCAA men’s games televised live by ESPNU from February 15, 2016 – March 13, 2016 (three of these games proceeded to overtime – including one which proceeded to double overtime – so 75 total 2nd half/overtime periods are considered)

DELIBERATE FOULING
Trailing NBA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 15 of the 46 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. The effectiveness of this strategy can be categorized in the following ways:

  • šCounterproductive: fouling team ends same period with a deficit equal to or greater than its deficit at the time of the first deliberate foul; 15/15 (100.0%)
  • šFutile: fouling team ends same period with a deficit narrower than its original deficit, but still trailing (and losing, necessarily); 0/15 (0.0%)
  • šPartially Successful: fouling team ends same period in a tie with its opponent, forcing overtime (or an additional overtime); 0/15 (0.0%)
  • šCompletely Successful: fouling team ends same period with the lead (and the win, necessarily); 0/15 (0.0%)

Yes, as you can see, none of the 15 foul-a-thons successfully precipitated a lead change by the end of the same period. None of the 15 foul-a-thons successfully precipitated a tie. None of the 15 foul-a-thons enabled the trailing team to narrow its deficit by even one point!

But the Foul-A-Thon of the Month Award goes to Valparaiso’s adorable effort on March 7 vs. Green Bay (in Detroit, during the Horizon League Tournament Semifinal), where the Crusaders fouled deliberately while trailing by seven points with 1:25 remaining in overtime. And with 1:02 remaining. And with 52.2 seconds remaining. And 45.4, 32.3, 22.0, 19.7, and 4.5. They lost by…seven (after the final minute of game time lasted approximately 14 minutes in actual time).

All together, trailing NCAA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 40 of the 75 sampled 2nd half/overtime periods (including the March 11 Tulane vs. Houston game, when both teams committed one deliberate foul during the second half, for a total of 41 fouling sessions).

  • Counterproductive: 29/41 (70.7%)
  • Futile: 9/41 (22.0%)
  • Partially Successful: 1/41 (2.4%) (specific game/period shown below)
  • Completely Successful: 2/41 (4.9%) (specific games/periods shown below)
  • 3/7 (2H) Valparaiso, vs. Green Bay (in Detroit, during the Horizon League Semifinal), before losing in overtime
  • 2/24 Oregon State, vs. Washington
  • 3/11 Tulane, vs. Houston (in Orlando, during the American Conference Quarterfinal) – before Houston also resorted (albeit unsuccessfully) to deliberate fouling!

STALLING
Leading NBA teams stalled in the overwhelming majority of the 46 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. In many other games, the leading team was deliberately fouled before it had the chance to stall. And in nearly all of the remaining instances, the trailing team overtly conceded the game before the leading team would have normally considered stalling. Only two of the sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods (4.3%) was truly stalling-free:

  • 2/27 (OT) Warriors at Thunder
  • 3/8 (4Q) Wizards at Trailblazers

In only two of the 75 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods (2.7%) did circumstances align to allow a truly stalling-free period:

  • 2/16 (2H) Wake Forest at Pittsburgh
  • 2/16 (OT) Wake Forest at Pittsburgh

At least four sampled games (two in NBA, two in NCAA) included the riveting display of a leading team willingly accepting a shot clock violation in the closing seconds. During one such instance on February 20, Tennessee willingly accepted a shot clock violation during the closing seconds of an 81-65 victory vs. LSU. The game clock appeared to expire just as the shot clock did, but the officials heroically added 0.5 seconds for a final inbounds pass. However, this formality did not interrupt the handshake line, already in progress!

RUSHED/SLOPPY/INCOMPLETE POSSESSIONS
The game clock further contributes to an ugly brand of basketball by forcing the trailing (and in some cases, tied) team to attempt ugly shots. This effect is strongest during the final possession of a 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime period.

Consider that seven of the sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. None of those possessions (0.0%) was converted (on zero points per possession):

  • 2/19 Thunder’s Russell Westbrook airballs three-pointer from hash mark vs. Pacers
  • 2/20 Clippers’ CJ Wilcox airballs running halfcourt shot vs. Warriors
  • 2/27 (4Q) Thunder’s Kevin Durant misses one-handed turnaround long two-pointer off side of rim vs. Warriors
  • 2/27 (OT) Thunder’s Russell Westbrook misses catch-and-shoot line-drive three-pointer off front of rim vs. Warriors
  • 3/1 (4Q) Warriors’ Andrew Bogut airballs fallaway baseline jumper vs. Hawks
  • 3/7 Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving misses three-pointer off back of rim vs. Grizzlies
  • 3/8 (4Q) Wizards’ John Wall misses double-pump three-pointer off back of rim at Trailblazers

11 of the sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. Only one of those possessions (9.1%) was converted (on 0.27 points per possession):

  • 2/16 (2H) Pittsburgh’s Michael Young misses halfcourt shot off backboard and rim vs. Wake Forest
  • 2/16 (OT) Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis misses full-court heave vs. Wake Forest
  • 2/24 Oregon State’s Stephen Thompson, Jr. makes leaning three-pointer vs. Washington
  • 2/25 Nebraska’s Shavon Shields airballs pull-up two-point jumper at Penn State
  • 2/25 Winthrop’s Xavier Cooks misses retreating turnaround long two-pointer at High Point
  • 3/4 (2H) Belmont’s Evan Bradds misses short one-handed jumper off backboard and rim vs. Austin Peay (in Nashville, during the Ohio Valley Conference Semifinal)
  • 3/4 (OT) Time expires before Belmont’s Craig Bradshaw releases (and makes) putback vs. Austin Peay (in Nashville, during the Ohio Valley Conference Semifinal)
  • 3/7 (2H) Green Bay’s Jordan Fouse misses three-quarter-court heave wide of basket vs. Valparaiso (in Detroit, during the Horizon League Semifinal)
  • 3/11 Houston’s Devonta Pollard misses halfcourt shot off backboard vs. Tulane (in Orlando, during the American Conference Quarterfinal)
  • 3/12 Montana’s Walter Wright misses hanging three-pointer off back of rim vs. Weber State (in Reno, during the Big Sky Conference Final)
  • 3/12 New Mexico State’s Braxton Huggins’ full-court inbounds pass deflected away vs. Cal State-Bakersfield (in Las Vegas, during the WAC Final)

Even if we broaden the definition from actual buzzer beater possessions to potential buzzer beater possessions (any possession where the offense is tied or trailing by 1-3 points, with the shot clock turned off), NBA teams still converted only three of 12 (25.0%) such possessions (on 0.58 points per possession), and NCAA teams converted only nine of 32 (28.1%) such possessions (on 0.66 points per possession).

CONCEDING
Trailing NBA teams conceded 37 of 43 sampled games (86.0%) by choosing not to foul deliberately (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on offense and/or by taking its best players out of the game. This does not include a number of instances when teams conceded by choosing not to use all of its available timeouts (to automatically advance the ball into the frontcourt). This includes at least three instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.

Trailing NCAA teams conceded 49 of 71 sampled games (69.0%) by choosing not to foul deliberately while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace while on offense. This includes at least four instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer. Of course, maybe trailing teams concede just to be polite. After all, teams that actually try to win (through the only means possible under basketball’s current format – the unsightly, boring, interminable, and ultimately futile exercise of repeated deliberate fouling) might be subjected to loud boos, as Washington State experienced at Washington on March 2, and as Memphis experienced at Temple on March 3.

CLOCK CONTROVERSIES
The final three minutes of all 46 sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods included one clock review/error/malfunction.

The final four minutes of all 75 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods included seven clock reviews/errors/malfunctions, including the two main types of buzzkilling clock reviews:

  • 3/4 (OT) Belmont, vs. Austin Peay (in Nashville, during the Ohio Valley Conference Semifinal): Ruling that a would-be buzzer beater should not count (when it was initially ruled good)
  • 3/12 Cal State-Bakersfield, vs. New Mexico State (in Las Vegas, during the WAC Final): Ruling that time should be added after a would-be buzzer beater

Both instances led to significantly subdued celebrations. A hybrid format would guarantee that every big game (every game, that is) ends with a memorable and meaningful made basket, and a celebration befitting of the moment.

INTERMINABLE FINAL STAGES
The final minute of four NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:

  • 3/5 Rockets at Bulls: 12 minutes (1 made field goal)
  • 3/12 Thunder at Spurs: 12 (0)

The final minute of 11 NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:

  • 2/16 (OT) Wake Forest at Pittsburgh: 10 (0)
  • 3/7 (OT) Green Bay vs. Valparaiso (in Detroit, during the Horizon League Semifinal): 14 (2)

UNCEREMONIOUS ENDINGS
The final moment of a given basketball game usually falls into one of five categories:

  • Meaningful made basket (also known as a buzzer beater!)
  • Unsuccessful meaningful possession (when offense trails by 1-3 points)
  • Meaningless (made or missed) shot attempt (when offense already leads, or trails by four points or more; this category also includes additional instances when a player clearly intended to take a meaningless shot, but when time expired before shot could be released)
  • Leading player stalls (in most cases, casually dribbling or holding the ball; in especially close games, this might include a player/team actively evading its opponent’s attempt to commit a deliberate foul)
  • Trailing player stalls (the most striking form of conceding)

The 43 sampled NBA games and 71 sampled NCAA games ended in the following ways…

NBA
Meaningful Made Basket: 0 (0.0%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession: 4 (9.3%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt: 5 (11.6%)
Leading Player Stalls: 31 (72.1%)
Trailing Player Stalls: 3 (7.0%)

NCAA
Meaningful Made Basket: 1 (1.4%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession: 6 (8.5%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt: 12 (16.9%)
Leading Player Stalls: 49 (69.0%)
Trailing Player Stalls: 3 (4.2%)

…including at least three awkward endings (all in NCAA) when officials and/or clock operators ignored clear traveling/double dribble/shot clock violations in the closing seconds in order to end the game in a more timely manner – including in a crucial moment on February 17, when Texas Tech’s Toddrick Gotcher clearly and carelessly traveled after gathering a defensive rebound in the closing seconds of a 65-63 victory vs. Oklahoma.

ANTICLIMACTIC OVERTIMES
Let’s now consider all 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime periods (not just those at the true end of a game), and categorize possible period endings a little differently than in a previous section (listed in decreasing order of excitement):

  • Made basket to win
  • Made basket to tie
  • Unsuccessful meaningful possession (by tied team or team trailing by 1-3 points)
  • Meaningless possession (when offense already has lead, or trails by four points or more)

Three overtime periods were played in sampled NBA games, and can be categorized as follows:

  • Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 2
  • Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 1
  • Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0

Four overtime periods were played in sampled NCAA games, and can be categorized as follows:

  • Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 2
  • Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 2
  • Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Any overtime period, necessarily, follows a nearly-impossible-to-follow act – a 4th quarter/2nd half/earlier overtime period that was, by definition, as competitive as can be.

UNCONTESTED SHOTS
Leading NBA teams allowed at least four uncontested field goals during sampled games. Leading NCAA teams allowed at least seven uncontested field goals during sampled games.

FOULS-TO-GIVE DISADVANTAGE
During the final three minutes of sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus (and, consequently, did not serve deliberate fouling’s primary purpose of sending the leading team to the free throw line) in four periods, essentially punishing the trailing team for having committed too few fouls earlier in the period!

During the final four minutes of sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus in four periods.

FOULOUTS
During sampled games, three NBA players committed a sixth foul deliberately and/or in overtime, and 24 NCAA players committed a fifth foul deliberately and/or in overtime, including six players in the March 7 Green Bay vs. Valparaiso Horizon League Semifinal in Detroit.

UNSIGHTLY STRATEGIES, ETC.
During sampled games, trailing NCAA offenses rolled at least 32 inbounds passes, including in at least three especially bleak situations…

  • 2/15: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, trailing by 17 points with 1:10 remaining, at Alcorn State
  • 2/26: Detroit, trailing by 11 points with 27.4 seconds remaining, at Oakland
  • 2/29: Alabama State, trailing by nine points with 16.4 seconds remaining, at Texas Southern

During sampled games, leading NCAA offenses vacated the foul lane in 56 instances during the last free throw attempt of a trip. Trailing NCAA offenses inexplicably vacated the foul lane in five instances.

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