Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why do you get to advance the ball with a timeout in the NBA?

As the Celtics were in the process of making another furious last-minute comeback Monday night, they played some great defense after a made basket and tipped the ball out of bounds in the backcourt.  The Timberwolves had just four seconds left (out of the eight allotted) to move the ball past the halfcourt line.  Unfortunately, Boston lost the opportunity to force a turnover when Minnesota called a timeout that allowed them to advance the ball and inbound from the frontcourt (here's a video clip of the play on NBA.com).

Why should a team's defensive efforts go to waste just because the other squad calls timeout?

Something similar occurred two weeks ago during another Celtics nail-biter in Milwaukee. With one second left, Greg Monroe scored to put the Bucks up by two.  You would think the game should be over, except that the Celtics had a timeout that allowed them to advance the ball.  Because of this, they were able to attempt an easy pass to Kelly Olynyk underneath the basket.  Olynyk got fouled and made two free throws to tie the score.

At this point you might expect it to go to overtime, but the Bucks had a timeout left as well (still with one second on the clock).  They advanced the ball by virtue of that timeout, and were able to draw a foul themselves on the other end with 0.6 seconds to go.  After Milwaukee hit one free throw, the Celtics were now out of timeouts and obviously weren't able to do anything in the final 0.6 seconds (here's the full rundown of that fourth quarter with links to click on the videos of each play).

But my question is, shouldn't that have been the case all along?  The game shifted twice in literally the last second just because both teams were able to advance the ball with timeouts.  Why does that rule exist?  What's the point?  Wouldn't it be a lot more fair for everybody if the ball always just stayed where it was?  Is there something I'm missing here?  Why did they ever create this rule in the first place?

When the other team scores to go ahead with just a second or two left, you should have to pull off something miraculous like the famous Duke/Christian Laettner play in order to win--not just some junk like we saw twice in one second in Milwaukee.


  1. Great post! I don't know the reasoning of why the rule exists, but I'm not a fan of it. The last minute of NBA games takes fooooorever, partly because of that rule. For that reason alone, I'd like to see a rule change.

  2. That rule has been in existence for as long as I've followed the league, close to 50 years now. I can't swear it dates to the league's origin, but I suspect so.
    There have been some tweaks along the way, liberalizing its usage.
    It's only in effect during the last two minutes (Q4 or OT). That part, to my knowledge, has never been tinkered with.
    Initially, if a team made any attempt to initiate its possession, the option went away. You'd occasionally see an inexperienced coach or player mess that up.

    As for "why" of it all, you know that as well as I do, my young friend -- Dollars and Cents. This practice enhances the possibility of an exciting, nail-biting finish.

    1. Looks like the "zebras" got it wrong last night. This is from the current rule book:

      d. If a timeout is charged to the offensive team during the last two minutes of the fourth
      period and/or any overtime period and (1) the ball is out-of-bounds in the backcourt (except
      for a suspension of play after the team had advanced the ball), or (2) after securing the ball
      from a rebound in the backcourt and prior to any advance of the ball, or (3) after the offensive
      team secures the ball from a change of possession in the backcourt and prior to any
      advance of the ball, the timeout should be granted. Upon resumption of play, the team
      granted the timeout shall have the option of putting the ball into play at the 28' hash mark in
      the frontcourt or at the designated spot out-of-bounds. If the ball is put into play at the hash
      mark, the ball may be passed into either the frontcourt or backcourt. If it is passed into the
      backcourt, the team will receive a new 8-second count.
      However, once the ball is (1) thrown in from out-of-bounds, or (2) dribbled or passed
      after receiving it from a rebound or a change of possession, the timeout shall be granted,
      and, upon resumption of play, the ball shall be in-bounded on the sideline where play was
      interrupted. The option to advance is also not available following a timeout which is charged
      to neither team. In order for the option to be available following these conditions, a second
      timeout must be granted to the offensive team.
      The time on the game clock and the 24-second clock shall remain as when the timeout
      was called.


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