What is an Intentional Foul in Basketball?

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Fouls in basketball are violations that you generally don’t want to commit. However, in every rule, there is always an exception. Sometimes, there are situations where players want to foul someone intentionally. Perhaps circumstances call for it, and it is better for the team strategically to foul. Thus, this article answers the question, “What is an intentional foul in basketball?” and why players foul on purpose occasionally.

What Does Intentional Foul MeanWhat Does Intentional Foul Mean?

From the word itself, an intentional foul in basketball is fouling on purpose. It is a foul committed deliberately by a defensive player to halt play, tactically yielding the penalty of having the fouled player shoot free throws in exchange for possession of the ball. That’s the general intentional foul meaning.

It is one of the two broad foul categories (intentional and unintentional). Unintentional fouls are the majority of fouls we see in a game. On the other hand, intentional fouls are situational and mostly done to stop the clock. The defensive player must do it quickly and be obvious to the referee so that no precious second on the clock is wasted. Unless there is unnecessary contact, most intentional fouls are just common fouls but only committed on purpose.

Why Do Basketball Players Commit Fouls on PurposeWhy Do Basketball Players Commit Fouls on Purpose?

Committing an intentional foul is part of a strategy. This is often done by a team who’s trailing and time is not on their side. 

For example, if there are only 57 seconds left on the clock, a team behind 99-104 may try to extend the clock by fouling intentionally. Doing this might still give them a chance, especially if they foul a guy who’s not an accurate free-throw shooter. If that’s the case, the defensive team must control the rebound to have the ball possession and try to score.

Intention fouls in the situation described above work better if the defensive team is already in the penalty. If the team has fouls to give, the offensive team gets opportunities to burn down more seconds off the clock. In the NBA, if the defensive team is already in the penalty, two free throws are automatically given. In high school and college basketball, the “one and one” rule is followed, which means the fouled player must make the first free throw to be gifted with a second.

Another form of an intentional foul is what’s often called a “take” foul. This happens when the defensive team tries to prevent a fast break. However, the NBA intentional fouling rule is upping the penalty on a “take foul” by considering it a technical foul.

What is the Penalty for an Intentional FoulWhat is the Penalty for an Intentional Foul?

The penalty for intentional foul in basketball depends on the severity of the contact. Most teams alert the referees if they want to commit an intentional foul. The referees will then call a foul on a slight hold or modest contact. The penalty is a sideline inbound if the defensive team is not yet in the penalty or free throws if they are over the limit.

But then again, that’s not always the case. In the heat of the moment, contacts may become too excessive, which could lead to flagrant and technical fouls. As previously mentioned, the NBA does not allow “take fouls” anymore and considers it a technical foul. A technical foul means two free throws plus ball possession for the offensive team, hurting the chances of the defensive team to mount a comeback.

5 Tips for Effectively Using Intentional Fouls in Basketball5 Tips for Effectively Using Intentional Fouls in Basketball

By now, you may have a newfound appreciation for intentional fouling as part of the overall basketball strategy. Intentional fouls are the only way to extend a game, which is a team’s primary purpose if they are behind in the scoreboard with little time left.

However, there are ways to do this properly. And make no mistake about it, it’s not that cut and dry. You can’t just hack and grab any opponent on the basketball court; you can’t foul a three-point shooter. And the list goes on. Here are some ways to effectively use intentional fouls if you’re a coach or a young player.

1. Only foul the man with the ball

The Hack-a-Shaq (or Hack-a-Simmons) only works because the defense is still allowed to foul players without the ball unless it’s in the last two minutes of the game. When the clock reads two minutes, fouls away from the ball are considered technical fouls. If the defensive players let this minor tidbit slip away from their minds, they’ll end up hurting the team even more.

2. Always go for the ball

Communicating to the refs about the game situation is essential. The coach may say, “We’re going to go for a steal and then foul immediately if we’re unsuccessful.” However, as a player, avoid putting the refs in a tight spot. If it’s time to foul, always make a play on the ball and avoid pushing or bear-hugging the offensive player. Even if the refs know you’re fouling on purpose, they might still call a technical or flagrant foul if you’re not going for the ball.

3. Swipe across the arms and make body contact

Sometimes, everyone on the team needs to remember to tell the refs that they want to foul on purpose. During these situations, it’s important to make the foul obvious, or the offensive player may just run out the clock. One way to do this without making excessive contact is to try to swipe the ball across the arms. While doing this, go for a subtle body or hip bump to displace the offensive player on his path. That should be enough for the referees to blow the whistle.

4. Do not stop playing!

The referees may not call fouls, even obvious ones, which could be problematic if you’re trying to stop the clock. That’s why it’s crucial to instill discipline, not to stop playing unless you hear the whistle. Just because you’re hacking an offensive player across the arms does not mean it automatically gets called. If you stop and anticipate a call but don’t get it, that’s an easy basket waiting to happen.

5. Play the percentages

Intentional fouling means a team is already behind, but that should not take the math away, regardless of what you’re doing. For instance, the easiest “play the percentage” foul is to target the worst foul shooter. In the NBA, they usually foul Russell Westbrook (which does not always work) or someone like Nicolas Claxton. Of course, coaches are smart, and they’re always ready to burn a timeout to sub in his best free throw shooters.

So, what are you going to do? One sound strategy is to foul someone who’s just coming off the bench or someone who shoots free throws at low volume. A player who just came off the bench is cold and may not have the pulse yet to make a clutch free throw. In the same vein, players who do not shoot free throws often may find the pressure too intense and could miss the free throw. 

Again, these strategies do not always work, but it’s worth a try in dire situations.

Wrapping Things Up: What is an Intentional Foul in Basketball?

Basketball is metaphorically a live chess game. There is always a strategy involved to gain an edge over the opponent. Likewise, there is also some strategy when you’re down with only a few seconds left on the clock. One such approach involved fouling intentionally.

What is an intentional foul in basketball? An intentional foul is a foul done on purpose to stop the clock, extend the game, and possibly give the trailing team a chance to catch up. Fouling intentionally does not always work, especially if the offensive team makes their free throws. There are also many variables to consider, but if everything goes well, it can turn the tide in your favor. In fact, it’s the only way to give a trailing team chance to eke out a win in the dying seconds. 

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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