The Miami Heat lost game five of the Eastern Conference Finals and failed to close out the Indiana Pacers in large part because LeBron James spent a lot of time on the bench in foul trouble.
James played just 24 minutes after picking up his fifth foul with more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. James was averaging 40 minutes per game in the playoffs prior to game five.
Fouling out of games is typically not a problem for James, who averaged just 1.6 fouls per game this season.
But game five accentuates the NBA’s archaic problem.
The foul-out rule is a basketball tradition. But in a league which is driven by its stars, the foul-out rule not only can hurt the player and the team, but it also hurts the fans and can have an overwhelming impact on important games.
Consider this: No other major sport ejects a player just because they committed too many common fouls.
The only sport that comes close is soccer with two yellow cards leading to an ejection. But even then, a foul must be egregious to warrant a yellow card.
Of course, basketball still needs a deterrent for excessive fouls. But there are better options than ejection:
- Give the other team an extra free throw if the foul is a player’s sixth or greater.
- Another option is to treat it like a technical and give the fouled team free throws and allow them to keep possession.
- If you want to get extreme, they could do something similar to hockey and make a player sit for two minutes and the team must play with just four players.
Any of these options are better than ejecting a player for common fouls or what happened last night in which a huge playoff game was decided with the NBA’s best player on the bench.
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