Last night saw the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers play in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. It also saw one of the worst-played, aggravating, least watchable games the NBA has seen in a long, long time. Most, if not all of the game’s awfulness was due to the Rockets using the strategy that has come to be known as “Hack-A-Jordan”, the fouling of the Clippers’ worst free throw shooter DeAndre Jordan (40%) incessantly, so much so that he shot 28 free throws in the first half, an NBA playoff record. The league rules state that once a team fouls the other five times, each defensive foul leads to two automatic free throws. Every time the Clippers got into the bonus penalty situation, Houston and coach Kevin McHale would have one of its players (non-rotation bodies such as Clint Capela and Kostas Papanikolaou) foul Jordan, obviously, blatantly.
The history of fouling opposing players with poor free-throw percentages seemingly dates back to the late-1990s to the early-2000s, when coaches would foul Shaquille O’Neal (career 53% free-throw shooter) in hopes of stopping him and the Lakers’ offense. In the video below, the Portland Trail Blazers, in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, try to come back by fouling Shaq over and over again in the fourth quarter, to mixed results. While the Blazers were trailing Los Angeles by thirteen points going into the fourth quarter, they did get Shaq to shoot just 12-for-25 from the line in the quarter. However, the Lakers outscored Portland by two in that quarter, and the Big Aristotle’s free throws accounted for half of their points in the fourth.
However, the strategy actually dates back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, who only shot 51% in his career from the charity stripe. Despite his pedestrian (at best) free-throw shooting, Chamberlain was possibly the most dominant basketball player of his generation, and it could be assured he would be on the floor in late-game situations. This led to teams wishing to put Wilt on the line to try to mount a comeback in the late going. As you can imagine, the game of attempting to foul Chamberlain turned into sheer ridiculousness and distracted from the game itself. Reacting to this, the NBA decided that, in the last two minutes, a foul away from the ball (otherwise known as an intentional foul), would result in two free throws and possession of the ball for the team fouled. With the perpetual fouling of Shaq and DeAndre, it is done before there is two minutes left in the game. Often, between five and two minutes left in the game, teams ramp up the hacking, trying to get it all in before the two-minute mark.
So how should the rule be changed? It’s simple: if a team fouls Jordan (or anyone else, for that matter), away from the ball, without the fouled player attempting to get to the ball, it should be deemed an intentional foul. The fouled team should consequently get two free throws and the ball. Want to really discourage “Hack-a…”? Let the oppressed team choose which player it wants to shoot the free throws, just like technical fouls. Personally, I am in favor of doing this as well. Think about if Chris Paul (86% from the line) or J.J. Redick (89%) would have shot the free throws as a result of the Jordan fouls. The game would have been over in the third quarter, which would not have made any difference in terms of the game’s watch-ability. If anything, making the game a 50 or 60 point game due to the fouling would have saved us all from watching any more of that game than we would have had to.
Here’s my point: does watching a team foul the other’s worst free throw shooter time and time again make the game more enjoyable for the fan? Sure, there are more strategic possibilities upon performing Hack-A-Jordan, but there is absolutely zero flow and rhythm to the game. We often complained about the length, but more importantly, the pace of baseball games before this season saw the addition of clocks between innings to cut out dead time. The pace of games during the Rockets’ Jordan-hacking has been as bad, if not worse, than baseball was. In a game that is growing exponentially and around the world, how can anyone on Earth stand to watch these “theatrics?” And, especially considering that the Clippers play on the west coast and the Rockets play an hour behind in Houston, how can children who are just beginning to grasp the game of basketball bear to see this? They actually should be thankful that they aren’t allowed to stay up late and watch the games, because they would be bored out of their minds and never watch basketball again.
As a final warning to the reader: don’t blame opposing teams for fouling Jordan. It’s a smart strategy, especially if you are behind, as the Rockets were for most of the game last night. Kevin McHale and Gregg Popovich are simply trying to create more possessions and interrupt the Clippers’ offensive rhythm. It’s not their fault; it’s a strategy that dates back decades. While Jordan isn’t the dominant player Wilt or Shaq was in their day, he wreaks havoc on the glass and is an enormous presence on defense. However, he has not been discouraged by his results from the line, and it hasn’t affected other areas of his play.
If the Clippers win an NBA title this year on the legs of DeAndre Jordan’s free throws, then look for the rule to be changed. If they lose out on a title due to DeAndre Jordan’s free throws, then look for the rule to be changed. History has shown that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is open to change (i.e. lengthening of the all-star break, talks of a mid-season tournament in Las Vegas) and will look at all options in regard to this story. The rule will likely be changed, and it’s about time.
It’s time to put an end to repercussion-less Hack-A-Jordan.