Harvard takes up question of fouling late when up by three

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horry_lastsecond.jpgIt’s one of the most divisive of question in basketball, right up there with “is David Kahn as bad a GM as Isiah Thomas?”

You’re up three, there’s 10 seconds left in the game and the other team has the ball. Do you foul and send them to the line for two free throws? If so, when? Or, do you show faith in your defense to contest the three and not foul at all, going for it in one play?

There is no consensus, although most observers want the foul. Orlando chose not to foul up three in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA finals, and Derek Fisher got lose (after the Magic double-teamed Kobe) to tie the game with a three. Many coaches will foul, but often not until only a few seconds are left on the clock (Phil Jackson’s stated rule of thumb is under 5 seconds left, although he has let his team play it out and defend the arc on numerous occasions).

But with the odds of making a three roughly 35 percent (give or take, depending on the shooter), and that is just to tie, are you better off defending the arc, contesting the shot and just going for the win?

The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective looked at the data — every college game with this situation last season — and said, to quote Bill Murray in Meatballs, “It just doesn’t matter.” (Hat tip to Deadspin)

In the 2009-2010 season, I found 443 instances where a team held the ball down three points during their last possession of a period (either the end of the 2nd half or an overtime period). In 391 of those cases, the team leading did not foul. In 52 cases, the team chose to foul…

Of the 52 teams that committed a foul, six lost the game for a winning percentage of 88.46%. Of the 391 teams that did not foul, 33 lost the game for a winning percentage of 91.56%. … In this sample, teams that did not foul won slightly more often. For the less statistically inclined, this means that there is no significant difference between the two strategies.

This makes some sense, there is not likely a huge disparity, and the first lesson is you would rather be up three than down three late in a game.

But the Harvard study does not factor in the time component, and that is key. Up three and foul with 10 seconds to go and you have created a free throw shooting contest (the other team will foul the second you inbound). Both sides are likely to get to the line a couple times.

But if you can foul — not in the act of shooting — with Jackson’s five seconds or less? Then you essentially force the other team to make the first and miss the second, trying to get the rebound. In that case, in the Harvard college study, teams won 94 percent of the time. That’s odds any coach would take. So unless you’re at a huge rebounding disadvantage, it seems the wise strategy to foul late.

Or, to put it another way, you can’t really go wrong doing what Phil Jackson does.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.