Four-Point Play in Basketball: How It Works

Written by: Basketball Universe

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Four-Point Play in Basketball: How It Works

For passionate hoop lovers seeking to unravel the mysteries of the game, we’re about to take you on a journey to explore the realm of the four-point play in basketball. Fasten your sneakers and get ready to discover one of the most electrifying (and sometimes controversial) aspects of this exhilarating sport. In this fun yet informative blog post, we will demystify the mechanics behind the rare but highly rewarding four-point play, diving into its history, rarity, drama, and of course, its impact on the game. So, whether you’re a hardcore fan or just curious about basketball’s intriguing nuances, join us as we unravel the beautiful complexity of the four-point play.

Four-Point Play in Basketball: How It Works

A four-point play occurs when a player successfully makes a three-point shot while being fouled by an opposing defender, and then proceeds to make the resulting free throw. A successful four-point play is quite rare and adds an extra layer of excitement, as it allows an offensive team to recover 4 points instead of the usual 2 or 3, significantly changing the course of the game in key moments.

Understanding the Four-Point Play

Before we dive into the fascinating world of four-point plays, it’s essential to understand the foundation it’s built upon – the three-point shot. As the name suggests, the three-point shot is worth three points and is awarded when a player shoots the ball from beyond the three-point line. The three-point shot revolutionized the game of basketball, making its debut in the NBA during the 1979-1980 season.

But what happens when you mix a successful three-point shot with a sneaky little foul? You get the rare and elusive four-point play! To put it simply, a player accomplishes a four-point play by successfully making a three-point shot while being fouled by an opposing defender, and then proceeding to make the resulting free throw. These plays have the potential to become pivotal moments in a game, enabling teams to quickly shift momentum in their favor.

History of the Four-Point Play

The four-point play has a brief yet colorful history within the game of basketball. Let’s take a look at some milestones in its evolution:

Initial Record and Recognition

It wasn’t until the 1995-1996 season that the NBA began officially tracking four-point plays. Despite the successful implementation of the three-point shot more than a decade earlier, the rarity and drama of the four-point play made it a truly special and entertaining aspect of the game. For fans, witnessing this rare feat was nothing short of exhilarating!

Four-Point Play Masters

Although the four-point play may be rare, there are some players who have made a name for themselves as masters of this specialty. No conversation about four-point plays would be complete without mentioning the legendary Jamal Crawford. Crawford, widely recognized as the king of the four-point play, holds the NBA record with a staggering 54 successful four-point plays throughout his career! Others who have excelled in this area include James Harden, Reggie Miller, and Kobe Bryant, who have all executed multiple four-point plays during their tenures in the league.

The Intricacies of the Four-Point Play

Now that we have a good understanding of the four-point play and its history, let’s dive deeper into the mechanics and strategy behind it.

Styles of Drawing the Foul

Executing a successful four-point play often requires an incredible mixture of skill, finesse, and intelligence on the part of the shooter. Players must expertly gauge the situation and lure their defenders into committing a foul without sacrificing their shot accuracy. Two primary techniques for drawing fouls during a three-point attempt include:

  1. The Kick-Out: A player shoots the ball while simultaneously extending their leg, creating contact with the oncoming defender and tricking the referee into calling a foul.
  2. The Arm Hook: The shooter uses their non-shooting arm to create contact with the defender, making it appear as if the defender caused the contact.

Although these techniques can be successful in drawing fouls, they are controversial and have attracted criticism. Many argue that they exploit and manipulate basketball rules in a way that detracts from the spirit of the game.

Incorporating the Four-Point Play into Game Strategy

Given the four-point play’s rarity and the skill level required to execute it successfully, most coaches don’t actively incorporate it as a significant part of their game strategy. However, some coaches may utilize plays designed to create open three-point attempts more frequently, increasing the chances of drawing fouls and subsequently attempting four-point plays.

During pivotal moments in a game, such as when a team is trailing by four points or less in the final seconds, coaches might encourage their stars to seek out the four-point play opportunity. This high-risk, high-reward strategy can potentially turn the tide of the game in their favor.

Notable Four-Point Plays in Basketball History

Throughout history, there have been several unforgettable four-point plays in key games and critical situations. Let’s revisit some of the most iconic ones:

Larry Johnson’s Miracle Four-Point Play

One can hardly mention four-point plays without reminiscing about Larry Johnson’s legendary play during Game 3 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers. In the final seconds of the game, Johnson’s three-point shot tied the score while he was fouled in the process. He then went on to make the free throw, securing a one-point victory for the Knicks and cementing his place in basketball history.

Derek Fisher’s Clutch Performance

Derek Fisher was no stranger to shining during clutch moments in his career, and his four-point play during Game 4 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals left fans in awe. With the Los Angeles Lakers down by 3 points and less than a minute remaining, Fisher was fouled on a successful three-point shot. Completing the free throw, he tied the game and sent it into overtime, where the Lakers eventually triumphed over the Denver Nuggets.

Impact of the Four-Point Play on Basketball’s Evolution

While the four-point play is not the be-all-end-all of basketball strategy, it has undeniably captured the imagination of players and fans alike since its inception. Over time, the play’s influence has helped to emphasize the importance of sharpshooting and the development of new techniques and strategies. Let’s take a look at its effects on the sport.

Increasing Emphasis on Three-Point Shooting

The increase in successful four-point plays has amplified the focus on three-point shooting skills among players and coaches. Teams now prioritize shooting skills and routinely incorporate advanced shooting drills during practice sessions. The additional attention has led to an increased range and versatility of three-point shots, making them an integral part of modern offensive strategies.

Influence on Defensive Adjustments

To counter the rising occurrence of four-point plays, defensive strategies have evolved to account for the threat. Defenders must be extra cautious while guarding three-point shooters, as committing fouls during their attempts can potentially result in a four-point play. Proper hand placement and footwork when contesting shots can help minimize the chances of fouling the shooter.

Shifting the Entertainment Value

Beyond its direct impact on gameplay and strategy, the four-point play has stirred the collective imagination of fans and players alike. There’s a certain magic that occurs when these rare and spectacular moments take place on the court, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats, cheering in disbelief. As a result, the play has contributed to the ever-growing emotional and entertainment appeal of basketball.

Answering Common Questions about Four-Point Plays

As with any fascinating aspect of sports, the four-point play raises some intriguing questions in the minds of basketball enthusiasts. Let’s address some common inquiries:

Can You Earn a Four-Point Play on a Two-Point Shot?

Technically, it is possible. A player can attempt a long two-point shot and place their foot slightly over the three-point line. If the shooter is fouled during the attempt and successfully makes the shot, they will be awarded the two points and subsequently receive a free throw worth an additional point. If the player makes the free throw, they will have earned a three-point play instead of a traditional four-point play.

Why Are Four-Point Plays So Rare?

Four-point plays are considered rare because they require a unique confluence of multiple factors. The player must successfully make a three-point shot while also being fouled by the defender, which is not easy to achieve. Since defenders usually avoid fouling three-point shooters to prevent unnecessary risks, the probability of successfully completing a four-point play is relatively low.

Should Basketball Introduce a Four-Point Line?

This polarizing question has sparked numerous debates among basketball fans and experts. Currently, the idea of introducing a four-point line remains a hypothetical concept. Critics argue that an additional line could disrupt the fluidity and balance of the game, tilting it too heavily towards shooting and away from other essential basketball skills. Only time will tell if the basketball community embraces such a change in the future.

Wrapping Up

In summary, the four-point play is a captivating, rare, and electrifying aspect of the game of basketball. Although not always a part of every team’s game plan, these plays hold the potential to quickly shift momentum and unfold drama on the court. As fans, we revel in the excitement that accompanies a well-executed four-point play, leaving an indelible mark on our memories and fueling our passion for the game.

Defending Against the Four-Point Play

As we have discussed the offensive side of the four-point play, it’s essential to look at the other side of the coin – how to defend against it. Let’s examine some tactics and key points for minimizing the chances of your opponent converting a four-point play.

Smart Contesting

Being smart and careful when contesting a three-point shot is critical for defenders. Jumping into the shooter or making unnecessary contact can result in fouls and potential four-point plays for the opponent. Focus on maintaining distance while still applying pressure to defend the shot effectively. Work on verticality to contest shots without fouling by keeping your arms straight up and not leaning into the shooter.

Stay Grounded

Overcommitting can lead to fouls and costly mistakes. Instead of leaving your feet to block a three-point attempt, remain on the ground, and extend your arms to disrupt the shooter’s line of sight without initiating contact. Not only will this approach minimize the risk of fouling but also maintain proper defensive positioning.


Team communication is crucial for efficient defense. Let your teammates know when screens are coming or when a switch is necessary, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. The ability to communicate effectively builds trust among teammates and can help prevent the opposition from executing successful four-point plays.

Four-Point Play’s Place in Different Levels of Basketball

As we have mostly focused on the NBA, it’s essential to acknowledge that the four-point play plays a role in other levels and styles of basketball as well. Let’s take a look at its place in college basketball, international basketball, and streetball.

College Basketball

In college hoops, the four-point play holds the same weight and rarity as in the NBA. College players can also find themselves in situations advantageous for a four-point play. However, with a shorter three-point line (the NCAA moved the line back to 22 feet, 1¾ inches in 2019), defending against the four-point play might require different tactics.

International Basketball

Different rules, court dimensions, and play styles can impact the frequency and impact of the four-point play in international basketball. Despite these differences, the fundamentals of executing and defending against four-point plays remain mostly unchanged. The excitement surrounding the four-point play transcends borders and delights fans worldwide.


In the world of street basketball, creativity, and flair are highly valued, and the four-point play embodies both. Streetball players often showcase an array of tricks and moves to draw fouls on their three-point shots, resulting in a four-point play opportunity. Although often more lenient with foul calling on the streets, the four-point play remains an exciting and celebratory moment in streetball culture.

Notable Changes and Controversies

The four-point play has generated controversies over the years, with the league adjusting rules and regulations to limit the exploitation of basketball rules while preserving the excitement and entertainment value associated with these plays.

Changes to Foul Calls

In the attempt to reduce foul-drawing tricks in the NBA, the league has revised its rules and guidelines for officiating, which directly affects the frequency and likelihood of four-point plays taking place. These changes include interpreting certain types of contact initiated by shooters as “non-basketball moves” and lowering the threshold for offensive fouls in these scenarios. As a result, players are now less incentivized to perform unnatural maneuvers to draw fouls during three-point attempts.

Impact on Game Dynamics

As the league adapts its rules and regulations to limit the exploitation of fouls and clarify ambiguities in basketball rules, the prevalence and dynamic of the four-point play are continuously evolving. Players and coaches must adapt to these changes and find new ways to maintain their competitive edge, while ensuring they play within the rules and spirit of the game.

FAQ Section: Four-Point Play in Basketball

Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers to provide a comprehensive understanding of the four-point play, its impact, and relevance in the game of basketball.

1. Which player holds the record for the most four-point plays in NBA history?

Jamal Crawford holds the NBA record for the most four-point plays in his career, totaling a staggering 54 successful four-point plays.

2. Are four-point plays more common in recent years?

Four-point plays have been relatively consistent in their frequency over the years. However, with the increased emphasis on three-point shooting, players may have more opportunities to draw fouls, potentially leading to a slight increase in four-point play occurrences.

3. Do any other leagues or organizations recognize the four-point play?

Yes, basketball leagues and organizations worldwide, including college basketball and international basketball, recognize the four-point play as an exciting aspect of the game, with similar rules and impacts as in the NBA.

4. How important is the four-point play in basketball?

While not a primary game strategy, the four-point play is a unique opportunity for teams to build momentum and quickly gain an advantage. It’s a rare but highly rewarding aspect of the game that captivates players, coaches, and fans alike.

5. Does the rarity of a four-point play make it less important to practice?

Even though four-point plays are rare, practicing three-point shooting, free throws, and situational awareness can indirectly contribute to a player’s ability to execute a successful four-point play when the opportunity arises.

6. How has the league addressed drawing fouls through non-basketball moves?

The NBA has revised rules and guidelines to interpret certain types of contact initiated by shooters as “non-basketball moves” and lowered the threshold for offensive fouls in these scenarios to reduce players’ exploitation of fouls and clarify ambiguous basketball rules.

7. How does defending against four-point plays differ from other defensive strategies?

Defending against four-point plays requires a delicate balance of pressure and restraint. Defenders must maintain appropriate distance, avoid fouling three-point shooters, and utilize smart contesting techniques for effective prevention.

8. Have there ever been game-winning four-point plays?

Yes, there have been instances of game-winning four-point plays, such as Larry Johnson’s iconic four-point play during Game 3 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, in which the Knicks defeated the Pacers with Johnson’s converted free throw after a successful three-point shot.

9. Are four-point plays considered more valuable in certain situations or leagues?

Four-point plays can be more valuable in key moments or high-stakes games, where an extra point can have a significant impact on the outcome. This value may vary across different leagues, but the excitement and potential advantage of a four-point play remain universally relevant.

10. Can a player receive a four-point play opportunity from a two-point shot?

Although not a traditional four-point play, a player can receive a three-point play opportunity when attempting a long two-point shot, placing their foot slightly over the three-point line. If the player is fouled and makes the shot, they receive the two points and an additional free throw worth one point.

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