Sunday, January 15, 2012

NBA rule that turns winning into losing

            Two weeks ago I was watching the end of the Dallas Mavericks-Oklahoma City Thunder game on TNT.  The two teams had gone back-and-forth all night and had it come down to the final seconds.
            Down two, Vince Carter buries a clutch three-pointer from the top of the key with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Mavs a one-point lead.  Only 1.4 ticks?  It’s game over, right?
            Wrong.  The Thunder call their final timeout, draw up a play, and come out of the huddle ready to go.  Kevin Durant runs off one or two screens, catches the ball about five feet outside of the three-point line and lets it fly… Whap!  Or ‘straight koofies’ as they say in the 570.  The Chesapeake Energy Arena (really?) erupts as the Darantula’s three swishes through the net for the two-point victory.  Watch it here.
            It was quite the scene to watch unfold and made for some gripping athletic drama.  However, Durant’s game-winning triple wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for one unexplainable, illogical rule that goes unnoticed by most NBA viewers.
            During the final two minutes of an NBA game, a team is allowed to advance the ball to half court following a timeout.  Why this is allowed I have no clue.
            As a fan, the rule makes for some intense endings.  As a junior high coach and a journalist, I completely hate the idea.  I know the NBA has the rule in place to add to the drama and make for more game-winning shot attempts - and it definitely does the job - but it makes no sense what-so-ever.
The first question that pops into my head is why?  Why is the advancement of the ball not allowed at any other point in the game, but once the contest gets heated it can happen?  That is the first and most obvious problem I have with the rule.  One way or another, the rule should be the same at all times.  Either advance the ball all the time or don’t do it at all.  No rule should be altered just because the clock reads a different time or quarter.  Remember when you were a kid and your friend tried adjusting the rules mid-play.  That’s what this feels like to me. 
It’s almost like Major League Baseball saying that if a team takes a lead in the eighth or ninth inning, the losing team’s base runners are allowed to advance one base following a hit.  Or the NFL instilling (another dumb) rule pronouncing that if a team takes a lead with less than a minute to go, the losing team automatically gets the ball at the 50-yard-line.  Sounds nuts right?  Still, they are (illogical) examples of a team gaining extra ground/court with no time elapsing.  Sure it makes for a more exciting atmosphere, but there is no reason for it when one considers the basic rules of the game.
I find it hard to believe that any coach, NBA included, would like this rule.  First of all, this rule does not exist at any other level of basketball.  Only the NBA, but that shouldn’t be surprising.  Professional leagues seem to make any rule they want whenever they want.  But, I can tell you that this rule dramatically changes a team’s chance of winning (or losing depending on how you look at it).
Say my team scores with two or three seconds left.  As a coach, I am feeling pretty good about my chances of winning.  The other team will only get one or two dribbles and then have to chuck (and make) a long-distance, hail-mary shot.  I would say the chances of that happening are about five percent.  I think a 1-in-20 chance of a young man/kid making that shot in those circumstances seems about right.
However, if I had the lead with a few seconds left, and the opposing team was able to call a normal timeout and automatically advance the ball to half-court, I would need to have a diaper on because I would be...  You get the idea.
I think the rule takes away a lot of the advantage of scoring late in games.  Now the other team doesn’t have to waste time going at least half the court.  As I see it, the chance of them making the shot only goes up with every free foot they get.
As was the case with the Mavs, it only takes one second for winning to be turned into losing.  Thanks to this rule, the Thunder went from needing a miracle to (apparently) having a good shot at stealing away the victory.  I know some will say that it works both ways, but I don’t think it should work any way.
It all stems back to the timing of the rule.  Why does the rule only apply at the end of games?  If Carter hits that three at the end of the first, second or third quarters, the Thunder have to chuck up a shot from three-quarters court.  Yet, for reasons unknown to mankind, OKC now gets a chance from mid-court because VC hit the three toward the end of the fourth.
Looking at it from the other side, without this rule we wouldn’t have seen Derek Fisher and the Lakers sprint off the court following his game-winning shot with .4 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semis.  MJ doesn’t hit the infamous “Shot” on Cleveland’s Craig Eloh in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference first round.  And if you haven’t seen this ending between the Rockets and the Blazers in 2008, you definitely need to.  That took all of 1.9 seconds.
Like I said, as a fan it is great.  But as a person who believes in common sense, the rule either needs to be removed or made consistent throughout the entire game.