Stephen Curry hit THE shot of the playoffs so far, a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 3 against the Pelicans to cap a 20-point comeback.
But why did he even have a chance to attempt it?
Up three, why didn’t New Orleans intentionally foul?
“We were supposed to foul,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “In situations like that, we’ve had that happened to us a couple times, and they shouldn’t have even had that shot take place. We just didn’t execute, and that’s on all of us. But we were supposed to foul.”
Said Anthony Davis: “I don’t know. I thought he made it very clear: We’re supposed to foul. Things happen in the game.”
Quincy Pondexter, who was guarding Curry, has taken the brunt of blame for not fouling. But I’m not sure he ever had a clear opportunity.
When Curry caught the inbound, it appeared he might immediately catch and shoot. The last thing you want to do is foul him while he’s shooting a 3-pointer.
Curry took one dribble, which would have presented a golden opportunity to foul. But Pondexter’s momentum was carrying him the opposite direction, and I’m not sure he could have immediately reached to foul while preventing a shot. By the time Pondexter shifted direction, Curry was actually shooting.
That first attempt missed – which presented the real opportunity to foul.
Marreese Speights grabbed the offensive rebound and took a dribble inside the arc – with his back turned to the basket! Tyreke Evans definitely and Davis probably had an opportunity to foul Speights, who, not for nothing, made 84 percent of his free throws to Curry’s 91 percent this season.
Fouling up three is not the airtight strategy many present it as. A lot can go wrong. Plus, when teams know they must defend just the 3-point arc, they do a pretty great job.
Many factors tilt specific situations – Curry’s 3-point ability chief among them here. His superb free-throw shooting also matters, though. So, a chance to foul Speights – especially after Williams instructed to foul – should have been executed. It wasn’t, and Curry lost Pondexter in the scramble (another problem for another day) and made the game-tying 3-pointer. Ironically, the Pelicans fouled Curry on that attempt, though it wasn’t called.
Troublingly, this was far from New Orleans’ only issue with when to foul in this game.
The Warriors had the ball and the lead in overtime with the game clock and shot clock practically in sync. To any well-trained team, this is an auto-foul situation. But the Pelicans let about 10 precious seconds run off before actually fouling, even as Williams appeared to call for a foul:
Later in the extra period, Davis missed a potential game-tying shot and Golden State got the rebound. Again, this is auto-foul territory. Instead, Davis made a halfhearted effort and then gave up on the play, and Jrue Holiday retreated a half step before going for a foul. That allowed the Warriors to call timeout:
In the clearest must-foul situation of all – and the others were pretty clear – Tyreke Evans squared up to guard Curry for a couple beats before fouling after the ensuing inbound:
Curry made both free throws to ice the game, but had he missed one, every fraction of a second would have helped the Pelicans’ final possession.
This seems to be a systematic problem with several players not understanding when to foul, which points to a coaching issue. Maybe Williams is doing everything he can, but the players aren’t listening. Maybe the coach isn’t drilling these situations often enough. It’s an impossible diagnosis to make from afar.
But if Williams isn’t going anywhere, the Pelicans must handle these instances better. Davis will get them into a lot of big games, and like last night, some of them will be close. New Orleans can’t keep putting itself at a disadvantage down the stretch like this.