The other day I was keeping the stat book at my high school's junior varsity basketball game.
The game started as any other game would, but quickly developed into a competitively played nail-biter. It was one of those games where neither team even considered losing a viable option.
Win at all costs! Players were diving and hustling, and there were several hard physical fouls.
The game went down to the wire, and our school somehow pulled off the 32-28 win.
But, as I sat at the scorer's table, totalling up the stats from the game, I noticed a strange trend.
Both teams made the same amount of two-point field goals (10), and both teams made one three-pointer. What was the difference?
The winning team shot 9/12 from the line, and the other team was just 5/11. We made four more free throws, which proved to be the difference in a close game.
Often, the effect foul shooting has on a game is not so apparent. However, it almost always plays a critical roll in deciding the victor of close games.
In the NBA, coaches often use what has come to be called the "hack-a-Shaq" strategy. In the final two minutes of tight games, coaches purposely foul poor free throw shooters, such as Shaquille O'Neal, Andris Biedrins or Ben Wallace.
This forces the opposition to either remove their defensive anchor from the floor during the most critical stages of the game, or leave them in and deal with the consequences of their poor shooting.
Often, coaches refer to missed free throw attempts as the game's "hidden turnovers."
By going to the rack and getting off a good shot that is preventable only by a foul, a player earns a trip to the charity stripe.
If the player misses the free throws, however, his efforts to get to the stripe are a moot point, and the possession has no greater effect on the game than would a turnover.
Coaches used to preach free throw shooting at their players until they improved. Now, however, players' poor shooting is often overlooked due to their other skills.
Free throw shooting is one of the most important facets of the game. Without it, a team cannot close out a close game. Many close games are won or lost as a direct result of which team is better from the line.
Free throw shooting is becoming a lost art in basketball. The best players, however, recognize its importance and work hard to ensure that, when they earn that pivotal trip to the line late in the game, they are able to close the deal.