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2013 EuroBasket: Slovenia almost ties Croatia after Croatia fouls up 3

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With the FIBA EuroBasket tournament underway in Slovenia and with six spots available for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, we’ll look at some offensive and defensive strategies from this tournament. Follow along on ESPN3.

European coaches tend to foul more aggressively up three with little time left on the court than their American counterparts and it paid off for Croatia today as they escaped against host nation Slovenia. However, it nearly backfired and it showed why so many NCAA and NBA teams are not as eager to implement this practice.

This scenario could have been avoided had Croatia made one of their free throws after being fouled up three with four seconds left. However, both free throws were missed, giving Slovenia the chance to tie the game. After the second missed free throw, Slovenia rebounded the ball and passed it into the front court. The pass benefited Croatia, as it drew the offensive player away from the basket, allowing the easy foul, while taking almost all the remaining time off the clock.

This was the best place to foul for Croatia, as there was no way for Slovenia to get up a shot attempt to draw a three shot foul. Croatia got a little lucky because it seems a better strategy to foul would have been to put defenders on the lane during the second free throw and have them follow the offensive player up the court, fouling after the clock reached a certain time. However, they were probably banking on one of the free throws being made, so this is a reasonable second option.

After making the first free throw, Slovenia needs to miss the second one and hope for a tip in, as there is not enough time with just 0.8 seconds remaining, for any passes after an offensive rebound. Slovenia’s strategy is to have their guards crash hard to the rim, as it is difficult for the defense to get in front of them and stop them from an offensive rebound attempt.

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Slovenia gets lucky as the ball takes a high bounce off the back of the rim allowing the charging Zoran Dragic to corral the loose ball and get a decent attempt at the rim. This is made possible because the defender responsible for Dragic has to start beside him at the three point line and Dragic was able to get a step on him to grab the loose ball but was unable to complete the play and convert the layup. The defender can’t box out Dragic because he can’t get in front of him as they have to line up beside each other. A quick first step got Dragic in front and made him the favorite to grab the rebound.

While it didn’t work out for Slovenia, this shows us why American coaches are a bit more hesitant to use this strategy. In this particular play, it would have been just as likely an outcome for Dragic to make the layup, get fouled and drain the free throw to win the game. Croatia took that chance and it worked out this time. However, this play is a good example of why this strategy isn’t a given yet.

This play showed us one way for this strategy to backfire. This will likely cause coaches to try to find new strategies to ensure this situation works in their favor a higher percentage of the time (or give the offense even less of a chance). The strategy that we could see involves the top defender  on the lane (the second Croatian defender on the left side of the lane in this example) cutting off the streaking player coming in from the three point line instead of boxing out the shooter. This responsibility would then go to the defender who started behind the three point line, as he would duck in to get in front of the shooter to grab any tipped rebounds.

This boxout strategy would cause the offensive player streaking in to be cut off by the defender, who can get in front of them and take away their path to the rim. It won’t be foolproof (especially since it would only work on one side of the lane) but it would take away one good option the offense has in these situations.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

September 9, 2013 at 1:34 am

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