Mathalicious Post: To Foul Or Not To Foul

Greetings, mathletes. As some of you know, I've recently joined the crew of good folks at Mathalicious. Consequently, the blog work here is in a bit of a transition, but don't worry! I will still be around, though the focus may shift somewhat.

How Math Goes Pop! will be changing is the subject for another post. One thing's for sure, though: I'll be contributing to the Mathalicious blog regularly. My first post, on whether or not it makes sense to foul the opposing team at the buzzer in a close basketball game, went live last week. Here's a small sample:

A three point shot by Sundiata Gaines turned a two-point loss for the Jazz into a one-point win. No doubt that’s a tough defeat for Cavs fans and players alike, but in such a situation, there’s really nothing the defense could’ve done to change the outcome.

Or is there? What if, instead of letting Gaines take the shot, the defense had fouled him? Could that have increased the Cavs’ likelihood of maintaining their lead? If Gaines had been fouled he would’ve been given three free throws, but would’ve had to make all three in order to win. Making three shots certainly sounds harder than making one shot, even if a shot from the line is easier to make than a three-pointer. Though ethically murky, is fouling a sound strategy mathematically?