How We Foul Up 3
It seems like every night before I go to bed I watch someone else get beat because they refuse to foul with a 3-point lead in the closing seconds. And so many people are continually amazed at how these "miracle" 3's go down to send the game to overtime. Just last week Shaka Smart, Jim Boeheim and Doc Rivers all gave up late 3's that tied games and sent them to overtime (VCU and Syracuse lost, the Celtics won). In fairness to Syracuse, Villanova had the ball with 13.5 seconds left which is probably too much time left to foul and enough time for Villanova to try and get a quick 2 if they wanted. It is also harder to foul in the front court with the risk of fouling a shooter, which is why you have to practice it.
I've been asked by a bunch of different coaches how we actually practice the situation. Our rule is that we are going to foul if we are up 3 with under 10 seconds to play. I know a lot of the statistical studies say 7 seconds or less, but I'm pretty sure when it gets under 10 that most teams are going to play for a 3. If they are playing for a 3, I want to defend it the best way possible - by not letting them attempt one.
We practice fouling in live situations, during our time and score work at the end of practice. We don't use a drill such as a close out drill where everyone is fouling a simulated ball-handler at the same time. We do it in game situations because it's more realistic and I think it's important that everyone understands how hard it is to do correctly. It also shows you the many areas where players lose their minds late in pressure situations. Fouling on purpose is hard. If you are going to ask your team to do it in a pressure situation in a game, you'd better practice it. These are the teaching points we use:
Guard Your Own Man, Foul Your Own Man. In all time and score situations everyone becomes more attracted to the basketball. It's one of the reasons why advancing the ball with the pass as the clock is running out will usually get you an open look. When you are fouling on purpose the same attraction is there. You'll be amazed at how often 3 guys will just run right at the ball when you are trying to foul, thinking they are doing the right thing. Problem is if the offense is alert and moves the ball before they get there, or if the official doesn't call the foul, someone is wide open. If you don't get to the foul, you'll give up a great look. It seems simple but we make sure we drive the point home - guard your own man, if he has the ball, you foul your own man.
Keep Everything In Front Of You. Another one that seems like common sense, but common sense is not in play with 10 seconds to go in a close game. We cannot get caught moving forward when our man is cutting the other way. It's almost impossible to foul from behind the ball without it being intentional. Your man, and the ball, cannot get ahead of you.
Try And Foul At Half Court. We want them to burn a little clock if possible, but make sure we get them before they get into a scoring area and are going to look to shoot. We want to turn the ball if possible to take some time and then make sure we get them right around half court.
Foul A Dribbler Or His Back. There are two types of people we want to foul. Someone who is dribbling the ball - as the ball is going to the floor - or someone who has their back to the basket. These are our 2 keys to make sure we don't foul a shooter in the front court - say they have :06 to play and are entering it at half court from the side. If they catch it facing the basket and they don't put it down, we can't risk a foul because they can so quickly get into the act of shooting. But they also work in the full court as a general rule. If you foul someone as they are picking up their dribble even near half court, and they hear the whistle, they can throw the ball up and get an official to give them 3 shots. Foul a dribbler or someone who has their back to the basket.
Go Through His Body, Reach For The Ball, Hands Up. Specifically when committing the foul, we want to make sure there is some body contact so that the foul is evident. But we want to make sure we reach for the ball so that 1) We avoid any thought of an intentional foul and 2) We don't push him with two hands. We want to go across his body so that we move him and reach for the ball with our hands. Once we hear the whistle, we put our hands up in the air in the "I didn't foul him" pose. We do that after the whistle so that no ref can think we did it on purpose and call an intentional.
Play Through The Whistle. This is one of our hard and fast time and score rules for every situation, that we play through the whistle or play through the horn. Make the last play - get that rebound, grab the loose ball even after you hear the horn or the whistle just to make sure the play is dead. When fouling you have to be prepared to continue to play. Often players will stop once they foul the guy, assuming a call will be made. But officials are more or less trained not to blow the whistle in close and late situations ("Let the players decide the game,") and they will often let fouls go. This has happened to us more than once in games where we were fouling on purpose and we gave up an open shot because there was no whistle, and we stopped expecting one. You must continue to play through the whistle.
Get A Stop. The mentality of our guys is that we need a stop, even when we are fouling late. We are going to assume the refs aren't going to call it. We have to be prepared to finish the defensive play, contest the shot and get a rebound. You can't afford to relax or stop because you think you are just going to foul and the play will be dead. It's not that easy. Referees will swallow their whistle more often than you think even when you are fouling on purpose. Make sure you are ready to get a stop.
Violate. The last step is to violate the lane when your opponent is going to miss the free throw on purpose to try and get the rebound. Why would you let them miss on purpose and give them a chance at it? On a lane violation, they have to shoot it again. Sooner or later when they are trying to miss - but they know they have to hit the rim - the ball is going to go in. It's not that easy to miss on purpose either, and most teams don't practice it.
But there are a few things to be aware of when you violate -
1) The possession arrow - make sure you have it. If you don't, and the shooter misses the rim entirely, it's a double violation and they go to the arrow. You could end up giving your opponent the ball out of bounds.
2) Don't make it obvious - we did this once in a game, and after the third time the official told us he was going to give us a technical foul if we didn't stop. Other officials have told me that they can't do that, but this is what he said. So instead of making it obvious by stepping across the lane early, we just make sure we go in before the ball is released, early enough to be detected. If the official says something we are obviously just trying to get into rebounding position for the biggest rebound of the game. He should call the violation but won't assume you are doing it on purpose.
3) Get the rebound - you have to be prepared for an official not calling the violation, just like you are prepared for him not to call the foul. Get the rebound, violation or not.
I think the #1 reason why so many coaches don't foul when up 3 late is not because they don't believe in it, it's because they don't practice it. The numbers tell you it is clearly the right play. But there is a lot to think about and work on to make sure you can execute properly.