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The Elam Ending is the greatest G League experiment

The Elam Ending has brought out the best of both coaches and players in the G League

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Lakeland Magic v Memphis Hustle Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The G League has been the training grounds for various rules for the NBA over the last few seasons. Rule changes like the Coach’s Challenge or the new rule this year with the “take foul” were practiced and fine tuned at the G League level before making the jump up to the NBA. The G League also has experimented with speeding games up by making free throw attempts outside of the last 2 minutes a “one for two (or three)” meaning the player gets one shot at the charity stripe instead of the normal two or three depending on the foul. That rule change has yet to make it to the NBA level, and may never make the jump, but it’s yet another example of how the NBA will use the G League to try things out. While the “take foul” rule may have the greatest overall benefit to basketball, no experiment has been as much fun and changed the game as much as the new “Target Score” ending, more commonly referred to as the Elam Ending.

The basics of the Elam Ending are that instead of finishing the game when the clock hits 0.0, teams will try and reach a “target score” and the first team to reach that score wins the game. Most variations of the rule have teams play the first 3 quarters of a basketball game the way we traditionally play them, but the 4th quarter is untimed and instead a target score is set for the teams to go after. The target score is typically a certain number of points more than the total of the team leading at the end of the third quarter. The Basketball Tournament was the first major league/tournament to use the Elam Ending back in 2017, with it really gaining popularity in 2020 as part of the NBA’s All Star Game.

The NBA’s first experiment with the Elam Ending began with the 2020 All Star Game, honoring Kobe Bryant in the process. The NBA set a target score of 24 points more than the total for the team that was leading after three quarters of play. So for example in that 2020 All Star Game, Team Giannis led Team Lebron 133-124 entering the 4th quarter. Using the 24 points, the target score became 157 to win the game. The overall reaction was a hit for the NBA, even if that game ended in a free throw.

NBA: All Star Game-Team Lebron at Team Giannis Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The G League is using this season to experiment with a couple of different variations of using the Elam Ending. As part of the Showcase Cup, the current rule is that all overtime periods end with an Elam Ending. The target score is 7 points from whatever score the teams enter the overtime period tied at. Essentially, the first team to 7 wins the game.

This has created some absolutely chaotic and fun ending to games so far this G League season. The Memphis Hustle have played in 4 overtime games in their first 14 games and it has been compelling to watch. The Hustle lost their first Elam Ending game on a free throw to the Austin Spurs, but even that didn’t really take away from the overtime period.

The Elam Ending implements a ton of strategy, with Hustle coach Jason March joking after a recent overtime victory that he gave himself a pretty bad headache with all the strategizing he was doing internally throughout the overtime period. With the G League target score of 7 points in overtime, it creates an interesting decision for teams on when, if at all, they go for a 3-point attempt. In a overtime win over the Texas Legends the Hustle were able to score the first 4 points quickly, but then started to settle for shots beyond the arc to seal the win. While March took a time out to calm his team down, the game resulted in a Dakota Mathias triple to win the game in exciting fashion. Talking with Mathias post game, he mentioned “there isn’t really pressure to hit a triple, but more so excitement as everyone wants to hit a game winner”.

Another really interesting strategy I’ve seen with the Hustle is the decision to intentionally foul a player to secure another possession for your team. In another overtime game in Austin the Hustle led 115-114 with a target score of 117. With the ensuing Spurs possession, Jason March intentionally fouled Jordan Goldwire to make sure they couldn’t go after a game winning 3-point try. Goldwire made both free throws, paving the way for a Sean McDermott layup to give the Hustle a 117-116 win over the Legends. The strategy can be risky as you’re giving up potentially two points and saving the other team from really having to work on one possession. When it works to perfection like it did for the Hustle, it shows its worth as the Hustle didn’t have to have a stressful defensive possession with the game on the line.

Jason March utilized the strategy again in an overtime win over the Lakeland Magic earlier this week, albeit under slightly different circumstances. With the teams tied at 129 and a target score of 132 (and his team giving up 20 triples to the Magic), he decided to foul Zavier Simpson so that the Magic couldn’t go for a game winning 3-point attempt. Simpson split the free throws, and on the ensuing possession the Magic tried to intentionally foul Xavier Tillman but whiffed. The possession ultimately led with Vince Williams going to the free throw line and no chance to win the game as the Hustle were down 130-129 with a target score of 132. After making the first free throw, Vince missed the second one but Justin Bean tapped the rebound out to Dakota Mathias who lined up for the game winning triple attempt. The shot was just off but Vince Williams was there for a putback slam to win the game for the Hustle.

It was one of the most chaotic and entertaining endings to a game that I’ve witness, and the Elam Ending deserves a ton of credit for it. While there can certainly be craziness with the game clock winding down, like Xavier Tillman’s floater to send the game into overtime, the clock can ultimately interfere with the ending of the game.

When the teams head to Vegas for the Winter Showcase this weekend, the Elam Ending rules will change slightly. The G League will go back to the more “traditional” Elam Ending, with a target score of 25 points added to the leading team’s score after 3 quarters. So if the Hustle lead a team in Vegas 100-95, there will be a target score of 125.

One of the main strategies behind the Elam Ending is that it ultimately eliminates teams trying to just run out the clock down the stretch in the 4th quarter. Quite frankly, the Memphis Grizzlies are a perfect example of how the Elam Ending can impact a game. With the Elam Ending, Ja Morant can’t stall and run twenty seconds of clock before touching the ball on an in-bounds pass. The Elam Ending ultimately eliminates any incentive to take your foot off the gas if you are the leading team, while also adding a little extra pep in your step if you’re the trailing team.

Memphis Hustle v Austin Spurs Photo by Olivia Ramirez/NBAE via Getty Images

It will be interesting to see how the Elam Ending affects the games in Las Vegas December 19th through the 22nd. It likely won’t have as many thrilling endings as the overtime rules with it have, but it could still create some fascinating scenarios in games.

When it comes to the NBA, I’m ultimately skeptical they implement the traditional Elam Ending with a target score in the 4th quarter. Limiting the amount of points a team can score in the final frame can mess with statistics and is a pretty large change to the current way of things. However, I can absolutely see the NBA copying what they’ve practiced in the G League with having the Elam Ending be the standard for overtime games in the regular season. Similar to Major League Baseball and when they implemented a runner on second base in extra innings during the regular season, I can see the NBA going with the Elam Ending to help conclude overtime games and avoid games going on too long.

With the NBA, 7 points is likely too low a number for a target score in overtime but a target score of 11 points would create some thrilling content. The odd number target score creates the same potential strategies of when a team looks to get a 3-point shot compared to a 2-pointer, while also allowing a few extra possessions for each team.

The NBA may never adopt the Elam Ending since it is so different from the current rules, but it should 100% be here to stay in the G League as it has gotten high reviews league wide. “The league has hit a home run on this overtime stuff. It (the Elam Ending) makes it so much fun” Hustle Head Coach Jason March says.

Time will tell and we will see if the league adopts or edits the Elam Ending, but regardless of what happens it hasn’t taken long for the Elam Ending to become a big hit at the G League level.

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