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Do You Take A Player Out Of The Game If You Are Shooting Free Throws Late?

- By Ken Sartini

This is another one of those game strategies that you learn through experience. Getting a player that has a couple of fouls out of the game to protect them from picking up another at the end of a quarter.

Nothing is worse than having your star player pick up a cheap foul right at the end of the quarter. You should get those players out during free throws and dead ball situations. If you haven't used any time outs, you can even consider using a time out. If it's your star player that you need to win, then burn that time out.

This is a NO brainer. You need to protect certain players.

The key is being aware of the foul situation with your players. IF you have an assistant you might put him in charge of that. My assistant always helped me with that even though I tried to be aware.

As for fouls, I always told my players this...

"The refs will always make one mistake and that leaves you with 4. You will pick up one cheap foul a game. That leaves 3. So in reality, you have 3 fouls to work with. PLAY SMART... move your feet and don't reach. IF you get a foul being aggressive we can all live with that... that's what we want, aggressive players."

What do you think? Do you take players out at the end of the quarter to protect them? How do you handle these game situations?

Coaching Resources

How To Win at the End - Volume 1 - Over 35 situational end of game plays.

How To Win at the End - Volume 2 - Over 45 situational end of game plays for different situations than Volume 1.

Tempo Control & Delay Sets - Control the game and protect the lead with 12 different sets to choose from.

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Kelly says:
5/12/2009 at 1:26:43 PM

Yes! Get your best player(s) off the floor in these situations. They will get a little extra rest and save a silly foul call.


David says:
7/16/2009 at 1:16:11 PM

How much different is picking up a "cheap" foul with five seconds to go in a quarter from picking up a foul five seconds into the next quarter?

Do "cheap" fouls only happen at the end of quarters? How is it worse then?


Ken says:
7/16/2009 at 3:57:25 PM


Think about this... you have 5 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter and your star has 3 fouls on him, you let him and he picks up his 4th, cheap foul or hustle foul, who cares. NOW he goes into the 4th qtr with 4 fouls on him and cant really play as aggressive as you might want him to. Of course it would hurt IF he picked up his 4th five seconds into the 4th quarter but at least you wont be second guessing yourself.

All of these scenarios you need to play in your head so you form a philosophy about what you will do when it arises. Then you go with your gut / philosophy and take whatever comes your way.

As you read my answers to these different scenarios you will see what my philosophy was... You do what makes you feel right... thats the great thing about coaching.



David says:
7/23/2009 at 9:45:31 AM

I have coached for 26 years at my current school and the philosophy I have formed in that time is that it doesn't matter if a player picks up a foul at the end of the quarter. If I am willing to have a player in the game at the beginning of the next quarter then I should be willing to have that player in at the end of the previous quarter. Each possession is equally important.

Now the people in the stands may second-guess that decision but I wouldn't second-guess myself. Have I done what you describe? Sure, but there has to be a reason other than just fouls. Are we on defense and I have a great defender on the bench? Then let's sub.

To me it's like the baseball manager who will only bring his best reliever in the pitch the ninth inning. The game can be decided before the end.

I saw this in a state tournament game a couple of years ago. It was the end of the third quarter in a close game, just a couple of seconds to play. The team that was leading had a side out around the free throw line. The coach of the defensive team, a good friend of mine, took out his best player. The offensive team ran a backscreen for a lob play, using the girl the newly subbed player was guarding to set the screen.

The sub, a far lesser player, didn't help on the screen, the offense got a layup at the buzzer and a ton of momentum. They then scored to start the fourth quarter and my friend's team was never able to catch up.

Now all that may have happened if he didn't sub, but I know that his best player would have been in position to deflect the lob pass. She may not have done it, but she would have been in the right place.

So you can make arguments either way. If I were second-guessing this situation -- which I didn't, I thought it was a mistake when he did it -- I would be saying, "Why did you take her out?"


Joe Haefner says:
7/23/2009 at 12:17:17 PM

Great stuff, David & Ken! Your statements are very thought-provoking.

I wonder if there is statistical analysis for end of game situations. So many of us base our decisions on past experiences, beliefs, and emotions when it may be easier to make some of these decisions based on relevant statistics.

Are end of quarter situations more frantic? Are the players placed in situations at the end of the quarter that they are not accustomed to that would make them more likely to foul compared to a 'normal' game setting?

In the last 30 seconds of a quarter, is the rate of fouls much higher? Is it lower? How often do players with a 3rd (or 4th) foul pick up a 4th (or 5th) foul?

How often does a situation like David mentioned occur?

When a team scores to end the quarter, how much does this influence the score of the next quarter or the entire game?

When a player picks up their 4th or 5th foul (depending on level) at the end of the quarter, how much does this influence the score in the next quarter or the entire game?

However, like what was mentioned above, every situation can be different and sometimes you may have to coach by your gut.

Unfortunately for us coaches, it's easy for everyone else to be a 'Monday morning quarterback'.


Ken says:
7/24/2009 at 8:29:05 AM

Thats what is great about this game... sometimes there is NO wrong answer. It's all about your comfort level and what you believe in. David's philosophy is different than mine, doesn't make him wrong or me right... its what we believe in.
Funny he brings up that back screen situation... we had that at the end of one game... my starter WAS in... I had called a timeout and explained what they were going to run and what he needed to do... guess what? He still blew the defensive assignment.
I heard this from Hubie Brown and he is so right regarding this... its called the heat of the moment and people tend to make mistakes when there is pressure on them and the game is on the line.
That's one of the reasons I ran "situations" at the end of my practices.... the kids love the mini games and its a great teaching tool. I had a list of many and any time we didn't handle something in the previous game we ran it the next day in practice.. twice... I let them run it without my input, then we talked about it and I made my comments as to how I wanted it to be handled, then we ran it again.

I think situations are a great way to teach your kids the game. JMO



David says:
7/24/2009 at 9:22:24 PM

I agree that there is no answer that always works. I just didn't think that the situation was as much of a "no brainer" as Ken stated in the article.

Interesting questions by Joe about statistical analysis of foul rates in those situations. I know I have never seen anything like that.

Sometimes I think the officials may get a little frantic in close situations too. We had a game this season where we scored to tie with about four seconds left, the other team inbounded (no timeout) then threw a long pass which was grabbed almost simultaneously by our point guard and one of their players as the horn sounded. Foul on our PG, her fourth. They missed the front end, fortunately, although we eventually lost in double OT. Video showed nothing happened. There wasn't even contact. The official told me she held.


Ken says:
7/25/2009 at 7:49:05 AM

Maybe I should have said " it was a no brainer for me. "

Like I said, its all about the philosophy that you form as you are in this game for many years. We change as coaches as we are more seasoned..... but there are some things that we believe in and thats how we handle certain situations.

There are many other situations that come up during games that we decide how to handle... when do we hold for the last shot -- how we defend the 3 point shot late in a game -- do we sub defense for offense etc. Just to name a few.


Kim says:
8/27/2009 at 5:59:48 AM

All good questions in this discussion. I multi-sport coach, basketball and soccer and what I do know is that more mistakes are made at the very beginning of halfs (concentration) and at the end of halfs,(fitness and anxiety) and therefore more goals are scored at these times. Makes sense to carry this over into basketball.

Knowing your players and having them develop into ones you can trust in certain situations is what this is all about. Having them fit and mentally prepared allows us to trust what they can and cannot do in certain places and times.


Aaron says:
8/27/2009 at 9:22:23 AM

When your best player has foul trouble at the end of the game have them stand next to you while the free throws are being shot.


Ken says:
8/27/2009 at 11:44:43 AM

Kim, that''s why we ran "situations" at the end of every practice, to make sure that they were mentally ready to make good decisions during the game.

Aaron, I like the idea just to keep them out of trouble, we put that guy at half court... at least then he is in a better position to play D.


maher says:
9/3/2009 at 8:05:21 AM

if the player is my scoorer i will rotate the deffence so he will deffend weaker player and order him to be soft


Coach Rude says:
9/7/2014 at 11:28:39 PM

When it comes to fouls, i tell my players you have one foul on ME (basically it is a toughness foul i.e running through a screen) then the other four are on the player. I have learned that that one foul get my players to play more physical and its a psychological aspect. Players wont want to set screens anymore..


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