The 2020 NBA All-Star game had an exciting finish! That’s probably the first time we can say that in good faith since Michael Jordan played.
The league can thank a format change for the exhilarating finale. The target score or Elam Ending worked wonders and had players battling for rebounds, arguing fouls, and playing actual defense in an exhibition contest.
After almost two days of pondering I’ve come to the conclusion that the league should adopt this format change for ALL games. Yes, I want a target score finish for the regular season and playoffs.
Benefits of the Elam Ending
The benefits to changing the end-of-game format are obvious. It would eliminate intentional fouls almost entirely — the only exception being a team that needs one point fouling a team that needs three points so they can regain possession without risking a loss — and significantly reduces timeouts.
NBA haters love to point out that the final minute of a game lasts an average of 5.4 real-time minutes. Ten minutes for a 60 seconds of play is not unheard of. It’s difficult for even the most diehard of fans to sit through sometimes. But eliminating the clock from the equation, as we saw on Sunday night, can solve the last two minutes problem.
It’d be a major format change, akin to adding the shot-clock and 3-point line, but, arguably, it actually improves the integrity of the game. End-game situations are practically-speaking played by a different set of rules and strategies much of the time already. That’s kinda weird if you think about it, but we’ve all become accustomed to the rules/norms of last second basketball so the striking contrast between late-fourth quarter play and random moments in the second quarter aren’t jarring.
With a target score and no game clock, end-game play would more closely mimic “normal” basketball, but with the intensity turned up to 11. It feels weird to say, but a rule change this drastic actually encourages teams to more closely adhere to their regular strategies for the full game instead of basically changing sports after the last TV timeout.
Adopting a target score system would eliminate overtimes and buzzer beaters. That is a major sacrifice, admittedly, but the relative infrequency of both events makes it a smaller sacrifice than one might assume.
For example, there have only been 41 multiple-overtimes playoff games and 772 buzzer beaters in 70+ years of NBA history. The Trail Blazers, for example, have played over 4000 games and only 28 have ended with a buzzer beater — that’s less than 0.7 percent. Choose a random game and you are far more likely to see one of those boring 10-minute finales with multiple fouls and a failed comeback than a buzzer beater or multiple overtimes. Sacrificing the rare super-exciting moments to bump of the tension in every single close-score finale is, arguably, a solid tradeoff.
How many points?
The fourth quarter of the All-Star game took 41 minutes, apparently. The league would need to do some more thorough analyses of close games to decide how many points a team should be required to score to end a contest within a reasonable amount of time. I’d suggest taking the mean fourth quarter point total from all playoff games decided by five points or less over the last five years. And then re-visit the target score every decade, or so, to account for stylistic changes.
Should the NBA adopt a target score (i.e. Elam Ending) finale for all games?
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