What is an Intentional Foul in Basketball?

Traditionally, fouls in basketball are something teams want to avoid. However, there are some instances where a player actually wants to foul. Such moves are known as intentional fouls, and they are an extremely important part of the game.

Throughout the following sections, I will cover both why intentional fouls occur as well as they can be useful for the team committing them. They may seem unorthodox in practice but are a key piece of basketball strategy.

Basketball Foul Types

There are a few different types of fouls in the NBA (common, flagrant, technical) but they all fall under the same two categories: intentional and unintentional. Unintentional fouls are the most common fouls in the game, and they occur a lot during a game.

As the name suggests, unintentional fouls happen when a player accidentally bumps, hits, runs into, or otherwise impedes an opponent. In contrast, intentional fouls happen when a player purposefully fouls a player through one of those actions.

Such fouls tend to be obvious, and are easily spotted by the refs. When such a foul occurs, it follows the same rules as a common foul. The person who got fouled gets to shoot two free throws. If an intentional foul is egregious, the offense shoots the free throws and gets the ball.

How They Work

Most intentional fouls tend to be common fouls committed intentionally. That is distinctly different from intentional flagrant fouls, which is when a player uses excessive force and intentionally tries to hurt or knock down another player.

Most of the time, a player will commit an intentional foul by signaling to the referee that they want to foul. They do that by causing an infraction in a way that doesn’t cross any boundaries, but stops play enough that the whistle has to be blown.

Most of the time, that simply means a player wraps an opponent up in a bear hug or obviously grabs their jersey right after the ball is inbounded. Sometimes a player might reach out and slap the ball carrier’s arm as well.

It doesn’t matter how the foul occurs. As long as the defensive player is obvious in their intent and doesn’t do anything too harmful, it will go down as a common intentional foul.

A Strong Move

It may seem counterintuitive for a team to intentionally foul their opponent, but it’s something that comes up under particular circumstances. Typically, a team will commit an intentional foul when they’re losing a close game and there are two minutes or less on the clock.

By doing so, they make the other team shoot free throws. If the team misses those, it’s a good way to make up points. If the team makes them, the defensive team gets possession. Either way, the free throws and foul work to extend the game.

For instance, if a team is down by two with twenty seconds left they need to foul. If they don’t foul, the offense will simply dribble the clock out and win. By fouling, they create a situation where they’re almost guaranteed to get the ball back and take very little time off the clock.

Some players may also commit intentional fouls to stop a breakaway or an easy basket. That doesn’t happen as often, but it’s a decent strategy that forces a player to earn their points at the free throw line rather than getting an easy two.

Final Words

Intentional fouls are not something that teams want to commit, but they may have to from time to time. They are the only way some games stay close, and they’re especially prevalent in tight contests.

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