Stan Van Gundy is considered one of the best coaches in the league. Maybe he told his team to foul when the Magic were up 87-84 with 10.4 seconds left and LA was inbounding the ball in the back court. (Ed. note: He didn’t. See update below). And, yes, fouling intentionally is sometimes harder–and riskier–than fans imagine. And yes, you have to find a way to get Howard off the court so the Lakers wouldn’t be be able to foul him when the Magic get the ball back.
But holy hell, how many teams have to screw this up before it just becomes a universal rule to foul?
As I’m writing this, I haven’t heard an explanation yet as to what Orlando’s strategy was on that play. I’m guessing it didn’t include: “If your guy is dribbling just beyond the three-point line, just sag off of him a little. He’ll probably miss.” Bad defense by Jameer, but, wow, did Jeff Van Gundy put all the blame on Nelson. It’s like he’s related to the Magic coach or something. (For the record, I don’t mind JVG doing commentary on his brother’s games. But that scenario–a possible coaching blunder that goes almost unmentioned in the booth–is the nightmare scenario for ABC).
And, yes, I understand you can’t boil an NBA game down to one play. The Magic committed 17 turnovers (seven by Howard, who is way too turnover prone) and they shot 22-of-37 from the line. So cumulative mistakes put them in position to lose on a bad play. But, wow, was it a bad play. As bad as bad plays get.
In any case, the Lakers are going to win their 15th title. That will put them back to within two of Boston. Enjoy watching Kobe celebrate, because it’s coming. Damn.
***Update: Here’s SVG, via Kevin Arnovitz at TrueHoop, on the call not to foul: No, we thought 11 seconds was too early, especially the way we were shooting free throws tonight. So we thought it was too early. But you know, in retrospect, we gave him so much space to shoot the ball. We played like we were trying to prevent the layup. I thought we did a good job, we denied Bryant the ball, and then we just didn’t play Derek Fisher, just didn’t guard him. But no, it was my decision with 11 seconds not to foul. Yes, I regret it now, but only in retrospect. I mean, normally to me 11 is too early. You foul, they make two free throws, you cut it to one. You’re still at six or seven seconds … I thought it was too early at 11, though when they took it full court, I’ll have to go back and look at that. That one will haunt me forever, but we could have played that play a lot better.
Stan (barely) has a point here. We’ve all debated exhaustively where that line is when it’s too early to start the foul game. I think these playoffs have taught us that it’s a bit earlier than we think. The right call here was to foul. I said it before the play on my live blog, the guys at Ball Don’t Lie said it before the play on their live blog, thousands of basketball fans on their couches everywhere said it before the play.
Someone with really great computer programming skills should go through every “up by three with less than 15 seconds” scenario from the full season and find out what teams did and how often it worked. I may sit down next week and do that just for the playoffs.
Honestly…that possession–the decision not to foul, Jameer Nelson’s inexplicably poor defense–has to go in the top five all-time worst game-deciding possessions in NBA history. You literally could not play that scenario worse than Orlando did.
And it cost them their season.