Much has been made about the “hack-a-player” strategy this season. As such, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the league would review the practice in which players intentionally foul poor free throw shooters as a defensive strategy, during the upcoming offseason. Last month, Silver told the Associated Press, “I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve sat in meetings with some of the greatest players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird who said that players should learn to make their free throws and it’s part of the game. At the same time, it doesn’t make for great television, so I’m on the fence right now.” Well, if bad television is Silver’s concern, last night’s Houston Rockets vs LA Clippers game should give him all the ammunition needed to eliminate it altogether.
Rockets head coach Kevin McHale began excessively fouling Clippers center DeAndre Jordan as early as 3 minutes into the first quarter. Before halftime, which took nearly 90 minutes to complete, Jordan attempted 28 free throws, and missed 18.
When the hack-a-player strategy is used “responsibly” towards the end of a game, it’s somewhat tolerable. If a player hasn’t mastered something as fundamental as knocking down foul shouts, and it’s to its opponents’ benefit to force the player to beat them at the foul line, fans are willing to deal with it. However, dialing up the “Hack-A-Jordan” play in the first quarter and continuing to go there so frequently is coaching at its worst. McHale’s lazy approach ultimately backfired on the Rockets, and fans, for that matter. Instead of hampering the Clippers’ rhythm, it was the Rockets who were out of sorts. Despite clawing their way to a second-seed in a challenging Western Conference, and having an MVP-Caliber player in James Harden, the Rockets played as if they were underdogs. The Clippers gained the competitive and psychological edge, in last night’s 128-95 blowout. Ironically, it also elevated Jordan’s game. He finished with a career-high 34 free throw attempts (connecting on 14), and game-high 26 points and 17 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Rockets wracked up its third loss, which included a 37-point deficit, and are now just one loss away from being eliminated from the best-of-7 series.
USA Today reported James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, and Dwight Howard, each shared his point of view regarding McHale’s decision.
Harden: “I mean, personally I don’t like it, but I guess different coaches have their different philosophies on the game.”
Rockets forward Trevor Ariza: “You know, it is what it is. It’s a strategy. When you’re out there, you try to do anything you can to win, so you try to make the game ugly. If it doesn’t work, then you’ve got to try something else. But you can’t really worry about rhythm to the game when you’re trying to get wins. You’ve got to try anything.”
Rockets forward Josh Smith: “It’s a decision that the coach made, and you have to just roll with it. Whatever he decides to do.”
Howard: “I don’t think that was the reason (they lost the game). I don’t think it had an effect on the game.”
In general, it doesn’t appear Rockets’ players support McHale’s coaching call, but remained respectful and diplomatic when addressing the media. Nonetheless, that didn’t prevent McHale from defending himself. USA Today reports, “For McHale’s part, he said that Howard’s early foul trouble inspired the move. ‘We were just trying to see if we could muck up the game a little bit,’ McHale said. ‘We didn’t. We came back in and we kind of had to play small, so we just thought maybe we could get them out of their rhythm a little bit.'”
They mucked up the game alright, just not in their favor.
photo via Kirby Lee/USA Today