Monday, June 8, 2009

Straight, No Chaser

Towards the end of overtime in last night's Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Lakers took the ball with about 27 seconds left and a 3-point lead. ABC's Jeff Van Gundy (or was it Mark Jackson?) argued that Orlando should foul immediately. I thought this was bad advice. If you foul an 80% free-throw shooter, then there's a 64% chance that he'll make both shots and you'll be down by 5 points, and a 32% chance that he'll make only 1 shot and you'll be down by 4 points. There's only a 4% chance that he'll miss both shots and you'll have a chance to tie the game! My advice would be to try for a defensive stop and get the ball back. Granted, as Van Gundy observed, if the Lakers simply held the ball for 24 seconds, they would leave Orlando with only 3 seconds remaining to put a shot together. But they probably would not do that; rather, they would try for a score to augment their lead. This gives Orlando opportunity to either get a steal or a stop well before 24 seconds elapsed. It might not work, but the probability of success would probably be over 4 percent.

In the event, Orlando adopted perhaps a compromise strategy between my advice and Van Gundy's: they trapped the Lakers on the inbound pass (which was in the backcourt) and tried to effect either a steal or an 8-second violation. When this failed and the Lakers successfully advanced the ball across the half-court line, Orlando immediately fouled with 22 seconds left. They smartly chose to foul Lamar Odom, who is only a 62.3% free throw shooter (thus, a 14% chance that he would miss both, but an 86% chance that he would make at least one shot and make it a two-possession game). In the event, Odom made two free throws, Redick and Lewis missed three-pointers, and the ballgame ended as Jack Nicholson rose to congratulate the Magic's stars. A Coach Bhel would have handled things differently.

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