What is a Foul to Give in Basketball? Explained!


There are many strategies to fouling in basketball when the game goes down to the wire. One term you hear often is a foul to give. What does this even mean? What is the strategy if any in this type of foul?

What is a foul to give in basketball? The term a foul to give occurs at the end of a quarter, half, or game and is when a team is two fouls away from being in bonus situation.  A foul to give can be used strategically to make an aggressive play on the ball when on defense to attain possession when desperate for a basket when the game is on the line.

This is important in relation to the bonus as when a team is down a basket then need a way to stop the clock also and get the ball back while the only way to do this is to put the team in bonus so they will shoot free throws and hope the team misses for an opportunity to score and tie or make a go-ahead basket.

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A Foul to give explained

Commentators during a game will mention that there is a foul to give as a way for the audience to know how many fouls each team has. The total number of fouls is not as important but whether a team is in a bonus or have a foul to give. Once a team reaches any one of the two the number of fouls does not matter in the NBA but does matter in College basketball and in high school.

A technical foul or offensive foul do not count towards team fouls and would not affect a foul to give or the bonus. So why does a foul to give matter?

Basketball’s rules state each team may commit up to 5 fouls in a quarter before putting the other team in bonus. In high school and college, it is 7 fouls for the half. Where the foul to give comes into play is usually at the end of the game when a team is down a couple of baskets.

In the NBA a foul to give is when a team reaches 3 fouls.

In College Basketball and High School, a foul to give is . a team reaches 5 fouls

For example, if we were using NBA rules and Team A is up 2 points with the ball and there are 20 seconds left on the clock. Team B has 3 fouls and has a foul to give, and are two away from the bonus in order to force Team A to the line and make their free-throws. Team B would hope that Team A would miss so that Team B can get the ball back.

In this situation, a strategy that Team B would use is to go for an aggressive steal for the ball as they have a foul to give. The advantage to an aggressive steal is not having to worry if they foul or not, players will play their man tight and try to force a turnover or deflection, it is as if to say Team B is doing whatever necessary to get the ball back with no risk involved. They will want to avoid a foul if Team A attempts a shot. While at the end of a close game fouling could potentially cost a team the game depending on the circumstances and score.

This can also work on the flip side of the coin also when a team is up a basket and there are less than 10 seconds on the clock at the end of the game. A team may foul with 3 seconds left as long as they have a foul to give and the team is not in a shooting motion. This way the team with the ball no has to inbound the basketball and try to come up with a play that gets an open shot with 3 seconds left on the clock.

NBA Bonus Rule Change

The NBA Bonus is a lot different than college and high school basketball and works as follows. When a team reaches 5 team fouls in a quarter the opposing team and will shoot two free throws this is known as the bonus. These rules apply during the game until the last two minutes in which if no team had any fouls against them they are given two common fouls before they reach the bonus.

Why the rule change?

The rule change happened because the old rule penalizes a team for not fouling and playing good defense. If a team was down one basket and they needed to foul with 20 seconds left on the clock to get the ball, they would waste a significant amount of time trying to foul five times to get the team in bonus. The new rule they only have to foul twice, the first foul would be considered a foul to give.

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