11 May 2023 🏀
After realizing I hadn’t seen anyone mention it, I did a quick Google search and still couldn’t find anyone talking about the time-wasting strategy the Denver Nuggets, mainly Jokić, implemented down the stretch of game 5 against the Phoenix Suns, reminiscent of time-wasting down the stretch of close soccer games1.
It solidified in my mind after seeing Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors do the exact opposite last night, immediately inbounding a made basket against the Lakers with about 6:00 left while up 10 points.
Some background: in an NBA game the clock only stops during a stoppage in play: foul, time-out, and other types of violations. It does not stop after a made basket, with the exception of the last two minutes.
Additional background for those unfamiliar with the rules: once an inbounder has possession of the ball they have five seconds to pass the ball into play, and then the team has eight seconds to bring the ball up past half court, and obviously the 24 second shot clock, which begins at the same time as the eight seconds starts with the inbounding of the ball.
In Jokić’s scenario, as Denver was up ten, starting with about eight minutes to go in the game, after every made basket by Phoenix Jokic would almost ignore the ball, watching it bounce away as he took his time to retrieve it, and letting valuable seconds tick away. Once in possession of the ball, he would take full advantage of those five seconds allotted, and then inbound it softly ahead of his point guard, Jamal Murray, who would be able to wait another second or two before taking possession and thus starting the 8/24 second clocks. To top it all off, Denver excelled at using as much of their 24 seconds as they could while still finding good looks within their offense.
It might not seem like a lot, but those extra seconds add up and they were able to waste at least 30 seconds of game time every possession during that six minute period (between ~8:00 to go and 2:00 to go).
Phoenix realized it as well and it became evident when Devin Booker could be seen pointing and talking to the refs about it, but more importantly, it was obvious in how Phoenix rushed their offense, resulting in poor shots.
Even if Phoenix were able to keep their possessions down to 15 seconds, they’d get a maximum of 8 possessions during that six minute stretch. Play that out at Phoenix’s 1.12 points per possession and you’d end up with 9 points. So even if Phoenix is able to keep Denver scoreless during that six minute stretch2, they’d still be down 1.
Limiting possessions is the name of the game here for a team up in a semi-close game so they can shorten it, in a sense, and reduce the opportunities their opponent has to score and catch up. Now, not every team in the NBA has the ability to successfully pull this off because a lot of teams lack a good half court offense and would struggle to score without moving quickly in transition for easy baskets, but any playoff team who thinks they have a real shot should be able to play the clock and still get solid possessions in order to kill time, limit possessions, and maintain their lead to ultimately secure the win.