BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens misinterpreted a league memo on intentional fouling, and it might have played a key role in Boston's buzzer-beating win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night.
Stevens believed an email from the league last week suggested that intentionally fouling during a free-throw attempt -- something that has occurred a couple times recently with players actually piggybacking opponents during free-throw attempts -- would result in a flagrant foul call. It's part of the reason Stevens subbed Marcus Smart into Friday's game during a key sequence in Boston's last-second rally, and it was Smart who helped get Boston the ball back for a final shot attempt that saw Avery Bradley hit a game-winning 3-pointer to defeat the Cavaliers.
The NBA later clarified that the memo referenced by Stevens was only detailing a suggestion from the competition committee regarding plays like the piggyback fouling.
"It was in an email from the league. So it basically said that if you do what [J.J.] Redick did [for] the Clippers [jumping on Andre Drummond's back] and then what the Wizards did against us where they jumped on Amir [Johnson's] back and kind of wrapped around, then it would be a flagrant foul," Stevens said. "At least that’s what I think I read. I get a lot of emails. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don’t. But I’m glad I read that one.
"So that was, initially, actually why we put Smart in the game, so whoever went in I could tell, ‘Hey, listen, if you go after the ball you have to do it in a way that is a basketball play. Otherwise it’s a flagrant foul.’ And so we wanted him to go after the ball. And he made a real push to get into the ball. And he and Jae [Crowder] kept it alive."
The Celtics trailed the Cavaliers by two Friday night after Evan Turner was fouled on a layup with 5.9 seconds to play. Stevens subbed Smart for big man Jared Sullinger, and the team's backup point guard used his strength to drive Timofey Mozgov beneath the basket, where Mozgov fumbled the missed free-throw rebound attempt and Boston ultimately got the ball back when it went out of bounds off a Cavaliers player.
Boston huddled during an on-court review and Stevens drew up a play that ended with Bradley's winning 3-pointer.
Asked about the prevalent hack-a-player strategies rampant in the league this season, Stevens said: "I just actually joined the rules committee last year. I’ve only been in one meeting -- we had one in September. So I’m interested to see where that discussion goes in that. I think, aesthetically for the game, it would be beneficial to have somewhat like a college call where you can call an intentional foul and it penalizes you more than just the shots. I think that would probably be a good thing. But I’m not sure how you legislate it. And I’m not sure how you know what’s intentional and what’s not. So it will be interesting to get in that room and listen to the discussion."
Added Stevens: "It’s a valuable tool. But hey, I also understand this is a game of flow. As long as it’s something that you can use or you can do, then you want to use it to your advantage. But I think that there is a lot of uncertainty in using it."
While discussing the final seconds of the Cavaliers win, Stevens was told that Turner suggested he missed the free throw intentionally.
“That wasn’t my suggestion," Stevens said.
It was then noted Turner said that, the way it all played out, the Celtics look like geniuses. "I didn’t think that either," Stevens added. "I just thought [Bradley] made a heck of a shot. I don’t know. Maybe [Turner] came up with that plan on his own. So it was a good plan. It worked."