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I Ran The Proper Forensic Accounting To Determine If LeBron James Really Thought He Invented The 'Foul Up Six' End-Game Strategy

I read Ohios Tate's blog yesterday calling out LeBron James for pretending to brilliantly concoct a new genius end-game strategy on his podcast with JJ Reddick. That being - a team leading by exactly six points should foul the trailing team while bringing the ball up the court to put them on the free throw line with no real chance of ending the possession with a one-score game (via a three-pointer). 

If you watch the clip, you can see JJ restrain himself from immediately interrupting LeBron before politely explaining that Joe Mazzula just did this in the Eastern Conference Finals vs the Pacers. LeBron claimed he missed it leaving him looking pretty silly and seemingly trying to save face. 

Unrelated, all of one day later JJ is no longer the prime target for the Lakers head coaching job as all eyes are on Dan Hurley who's qualifications include not mentioning to LeBron that the Celtics just did this

It's easy to be a LeBron hater and assume he was full of it while trying to look smart. Maybe he did miss it. I mean, is he really a hardcore NBA junkie that goes to any lengths to watch the games during his down time?

OK maybe he is, but this might actually help his case. Who's to say he wasn't looking for the 17th x he needed to hit to get rid of the "lonely? click here" ads? We've all been there. The having to click all the x's part that is. Sure, maybe the lonely part too. Whatever, I'm not here to judge. 

What I am here to do is run the numbers on what the foresic accounting suggests on all of this. It took me a bit to write the proper code in the play-by-play data, but I was able to pull every instance in the past five years in which a team up by exactly six points committed a non-shooting foul on their opponent to put them on the free throw line with anywhere between 5-30 seconds left in the game. 

Let's check out what we got here. Computer, do some computering. 

Giphy Images.
Giphy Images.



OK, so here they all are sorted by date with the aforementioned Celtics/Pacers game at the very top. The seasons are color-coded for a reason to show that this particular strategy seems to have taken off during the 2022-23 season (purple). With only one instance in 2021-22 and three in each of the two prior years before that, it's possible these might all have been random occurences with no strategy behind them. The forensic accounts can't really confirm.

But they are ready to confirm that by 2022-23, the idea was out there. Seven instances are no coincidence given the fact that number would only increase to nine the following season. Word definitely got out. And wouldn't you know it, the Lakers themselves even employed it vs the Rockets on Januray 16th 2023. That my friends, is your forensic accounting smoking gun. Dennis Schroder fouled Alperen Sengun who would end up missing both free throws as the Lakers won 140-132. A game that LeBron not only played in but was on the court himself at the time. 

Well. Well. Well.

Look, this isn't me saying LeBron was definitely full of it. It's the forensic accounting! Don't get mad at me. I'm just reading what's on the card like Alex Trebec. But this leaves us with one final question. If LeBron didn't think of this strategy first - then who did?

Using the list above as a guide, it's really between two possible coaches: Joe Mazzulla (Celtics) and Steve Clifford (Hornets). 

Joe Mazzulla: No one has used this strategy more (in the past five years at least) as Joe has done it three times. That might not seem like a lot but this is a pretty specific situation for a team to find themselves in and the Celtics are usually killing teams by more than six at the end of games. But the fact that all three instances came this season leads me to believe he wasn't the OG of this strategy. As American a story it could be, Joe was merely a rich beneficiary of an idea created by the hard work of the lower classes.

Steve Clifford: This is our guy! The Hornets of all teams were the only team to go foul up six multiple times in the 2022-23 season. I think he developed the idea here and word got out. Think about it. A team as shitty as the Hornets would hardly ever find themselves in position to utilize such a technique. Yet somehow with only 27 wins in 2022-23, they used it more than anyone else. 

And think about this. With just 21 wins in 2023-24, Clifford was still able to land an advisory role for the execs after - I guess - his scheduled end of season firing??? Seems like they might still find his ideas useful so long as he's far away from the actual court. 

I'm calling this case closed. LeBron had to know this was a technique starting to be used that no one has ever really talked about in the media and tried to call dibs on it like Taco Tuesday. Nice try LeBron! Maybe just chill and enjoy your time off. I know you'll be watching the Finals wishing you were there. Just remember if you're feeling lonely not being part of the action, you can also pretend you meant to hit the little x.


We'll believe you.