It’s time for the NBA to change its approach when it comes to fouling out of overtime games

On Thursday night, in one of the more entertaining games of the NBA’s season, the Washington Wizards downed the Toronto Raptors at home by a 134-129 score. The game went into three overtimes, and was punctuated throughout by heady defensive plays on both ends alongside timely shooting and transition run-outs. The most important play of the game featured Wizards All-Star John Wall triumphantly blowing past Toronto’s Tyler Hansbrough for a driving lay-in to give the Wizards a 133-129 lead and …

Wait. Why the hell was Tyler Hansbrough guarding John Wall with 30 seconds left in a triple overtime game, one that was down to a one-possession contest? I mean, yeah, big men switch and get stuck on point guards all the time, but why was Toronto’s late game pick and roll defensive duo Hansbrough and Greivis Vasquez in the first place?

Because Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson had fouled out after 54 and 42 minutes of play, respectively. The contest went on for 63 minutes, and Lowry and Johnson just couldn’t make it until the end with fewer than six fouls. Which meant that a pivotal contest between two playoff teams battling each other for playoff seeding and home court advantage (who woulda thunk it, Toronto and Washington?) had to watch an otherwise fantastic game come down to an unfair mismatch.

A mismatch that Washington, despite all its fantastic execution in the win, did not create because they were the better team. Sure, John Wall has pretty good odds of being able to do something memorable against a Lowry/Johnson duo, but the fact that rules got in the way of us seeing the best of these two teams in action down the stretch is a huge bummer. To say nothing of the nearly 18,000 home fans in Toronto (at least the ones that stayed, as there were plenty of empty seats in the lower bowl as the game move along) that didn’t get to see their team get a fair shake against an All-Star opponent.

Rules are rules, though, and that’s why we have to change these rules. The NBA has to allot at the very least one more personal foul once regulation ends in a tie, and I don’t think teams would be averse to adding one foul per period, even if one overtime “only” stretches for five minutes.

(And no, players who have already fouled out wouldn’t be allowed back in the game. They blew it.)

It’s a rule many have considered, I wouldn’t doubt it if the perpetually kvetchin’ Jeff Van Gundy has brought it up on air before, but for years I only wanted any possible change like this in place during the postseason. The novelty of watching end of the bench guys duke it out in the final minutes of a regular season game is sometimes entertaining for us League Pass-types, not unlike having to watch a middle reliever bat for the third time in a 16-inning Major League Baseball game that is full of two teams with exhausted options.

Baseball plays twice as many games, though, and teams don’t have to remove players from the game by an official’s designation unless the player in question is caught with cork in a bat or if he decides to kick a little dirt on the ump. For some reason, the rules in a 48-minute game somehow applied to Kyle Lowry in the midst of a 63-minute game last night, as he fouled out in his 54th minute of play. It may be a rare occurrence, but that doesn’t mean the NBA can’t do anything about it.

And if you’re still sneering at what you perceive to be the lowly Raptors and Wizards working in that pitiful Eastern Conference, going at it in a contest to see who can avoid the Pacers and Heat for a round this spring, just wait until your big bad [INSERT FAVORITE TEAM HERE] loses its center in a double overtime sometime this May.

This stuff counts, and if a rule change is implemented properly, it’s not as if these players are going to be free to push and slap whomever they want. It’s just one more foul, and players who enter an overtime period with five fouls are in just as much foul trouble if their limit is changed to seven in a tight, legs-tiring overtime match. Mistakes will be made, fouls will be created.

Nobody would be hurt by such a maneuver, as only the league, its players, and its fans have anything to gain. I think that’s enough on the “Pros” side of things to warrant such an increase.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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