Let’s forget for a moment the string of horrid offensive possessions the Bobcats had to close out the Knicks in their loss on Wednesday night. (The last five Bobcats possessions for the record: shot clock violation, missed shot, five-second inbound violation, traveling call, bad pass for a turnover.)
Even after all of that offensive futility, with the score tied and just 3.4 seconds left, the Bobcats had a chance to salvage what looked like a sure Bobcats victory just minutes before, if they could muster up one defensive stop.
On this final possession, however, the Bobcats made a crucial mistake, leaving their foul to give in their pocket and elected to defend the Knicks straight up on the final play.
Let’s take a deeper look at how they got there.
Initially, the Bobcats were let off the hook by the Knicks in a major way. After Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s (MKG) turnover and the subsequent Knicks steal, Ray Felton and J.R. Smith had a clear two-on-one advantage against a backpedaling Kemba Walker.
You can see in the picture above just how, for lack of a better word, screwed Walker was if Smith just continued on the path of the arrow. Instead of continuing towards the basket, however, Smith decided to flare out to the three-point line and after he received the pass, he back dribbled out, instead of attacking a scrambling, disorganized defense, which allowed the Bobcats retreating defense to catch-up. A huge win for Charlotte in that situation. This back-out forced the Knicks to call timeout and inbound the ball with 3.4 seconds left.
The timeout also gave the Bobcats and Coach Mike Dunlap a chance to set his defense and more importantly his defensive strategy.
As earlier noted, on this final possession, the Bobcats still had a foul to give and with just over three seconds left, this is a great weapon. Using the foul at the right moment would force the Knicks to have to inbound again, only with even less time on the clock and potentially force a hurried, lower percentage shot.
The only risk with using this foul is if you foul at the wrong moment. Reaching in to make contact as a Knicks shooter is keenly initiating his shot, thus sending the said shooter to the line could be a mistake more costly than doing nothing at all. In my opinion the risk is well worth the reward, however.
So what did the Bobcats do? Well they didn’t foul and by now you’ve probably heard about J.R. Smith’s heroic game-winner.
We don’t know if the decision not to foul was a strategic one, or a mental error by MKG who possibly could have still been reeling from the turnover he made just moments before.
Either by choice or by happenstance, the Bobcats played straight up forcing a contested stepback jump shot from a guy who up to this point in the game had missed ten of his previous 15 shots. Not a bad result, but Smith made that shot and the Bobcats lost.
The question still remains, could the Bobcats have used their foul? Let’s take a look.
After catching the ball far from the Knicks basket, MKG could have blitzed Smith on his first dribble and given the foul then.
Smith’s first dribble took the clock down to 2.7, so giving a foul here would have forced the Knicks to inbound again with probably around 2.5 (or less) seconds, lowering their chances of getting a good shot. As you see in the picture though, MKG is too far away from Smith to commit this foul.
As the play continues, you can see in the picture above MKG close enough to touch Smith and thus theoretically could have fouled him. You can also see the game clock inside the circle; a foul here would have forced the Knicks to inbound with probably less than 1.5 seconds and again, likely take a low percentage shot.
No foul was committed, so here is the final play, played out in real time: