LOS ANGELES – With a little more than five minutes left in the Los Angeles Clippers' blowout victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, the video scoreboard camera zeroed in on DeAndre Jordan, who sat comfortably on the bench after shooting 34 free throws. The Clippers' fans roared in delight. Jordan responded by licking his fingers, smoothing out his eyebrows for the camera and smiling brightly.
Jordan had reason to smile after the Rockets' frequent Hack-A-Jordan strategy backfired and the Clippers rolled to a 128-95 Game 4 victory. Jordan shot an NBA playoff-record 28 free throws in the first half and made 14 of his total foul shots in the game to finish with 26 points and 17 rebounds. The Clippers lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and will try to close it out in Tuesday's Game 5 in Houston.
"I know I got to shoot them. I can't run around the gym," Jordan told Yahoo Sports. "I got to shoot them and not think about it too much."
Jordan entered Sunday shooting a dismal 42.6 percent from the free-throw line in the playoffs. He shot 39.7 percent in the regular season.
Rockets center Dwight Howard is quite familiar with the strategy, having seen it often employed against himself over the years. Howard went to the bench with 8:20 left in the first quarter after he picked up his second foul and a technical foul.
Worried about being overpowered without Howard, Rockets coach Kevin McHale began hacking Jordan. Rockets rookie center Clint Capela fouled four times in one minute and 48 seconds. Jordan made half of his 14 free throws in the first quarter, but Houston held a 33-30 lead.
"We were just trying to see if we could muck up the game a little bit," McHale said. "We didn't."
The Rockets continued to foul Jordan in the second quarter and he missed 11 of 14 free throws. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, however, kept Jordan, who also produced six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block, in the game. With Jordan in for all but two minutes of the quarter, Los Angeles outscored Houston 30-21 to take a 60-54 halftime lead.
"I didn't think it was hurting us enough to take him out because his defense is so important," Rivers said. "And at the end of the day, I think if we can get more stops and he can split them – he didn't split them in the first half – then we're good."
The Rockets kept fouling Jordan and he responded by making four of his six free throws in the third quarter. He also made all five of his field-goal attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in nearly 11 minutes in the third quarter – after which the Clippers led 103-79.
"Credit to [Jordan]. He locked in and focused on free throws," Rockets guard James Harden said.
With Jordan resting the entire fourth quarter, Howard picked up his sixth and final foul and was ejected with his second technical all with 9:52 remaining. Howard had seven points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.
"It's frustrating at times, but I just have to try my best to keep my cool," Howard said.
Rivers still calls the strategy Hack-A-Shaq, because it was most frequently employed against former Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal shot 52.7 percent from the free-throw line in his career, including a career-low 42.2 percent during the 2006-07 season with the Miami Heat.
"I don't think hacking works as a strategy because there are too many counter defenses," O'Neal told Yahoo Sports. "For example, if you hack me and I miss, what you are banking on is you can score. But if I miss and we get a [defensive] stop, then the game is where it is. So if you keep doing it, I gain rhythm and the other team loses rhythm."
O'Neal held the previous NBA playoff record for free throws in a first half with 27 on May 20, 2000, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. He made 13 of those attempts and finished with 41 points as the Lakers won 109-94.
O'Neal shot an NBA-playoff-record 39 free throws against the Indiana Pacers during Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals. He made 18 and finished with 40 points in the Lakers' 111-104 victory. The Lakers eventually won the Finals 4-2.
"It cost Indiana and Reggie [Miller] in the Finals and it cost Portland when they were up and went to it," said O'Neal, now an analyst for Turner Sports television. "The only way it can work is if you're up big, 15-20 points, you do it and the guy is missing.
"It didn't affect me. In the regular season, I make it, I make it, I miss it, I miss it. But in the playoffs, I was in a concentration situation. It just made me concentrate more and gave me a bigger rhythm. It gave me better rhythm and more rest."
Miller doesn't regret the Pacers hacking O'Neal in the Finals.
"We came into the game plan playing to the percentages, 18 of 39 is to our liking," said Miller, also now a Turner Sports analyst. "The problem is we let everyone else continue to shoot free throws and get off. We couldn't score on one end. But our game plan was to send [O'Neal] to the free-throw line.
"If you look at the series and the [free-throw] percentages, he was below what he did in a normal [season]. But we didn't stop him from scoring, too."
Rivers said the Hack-A-Jordan strategy also allowed Clippers guard Chris Paul, who is slowed by a hamstring injury of late, to get more rest during the game. O'Neal said it also forces the fouling team to use its bench.
"It's a strategy that never works," O'Neal said. "I don't know why Reggie keeps bragging about it. That's why he doesn't have a championship. And you can quote me on that."
Howard, who was once sent to the line 39 times by the Golden State Warriors in a regular-season game when he was playing for the Orlando Magic, didn't think the Rockets strategy had much impact on Sunday's game.
Jordan, however, said he isn't surprised that the plan can backfire. "If I'm making 1 out of 2 or 2 out of 2 and we're still getting stops, we're up," Jordan said.
Sunday's game lasted nearly three hours. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has expressed concern about the strategy turning off viewers and fans, and the league's competition committee might revisit in the offseason whether to continue to allow it. Miller is still in favor of keeping Hack-A-Shaq alive.
Jordan "was 14 of 34," Miller said. "[The Rockets] didn't do everything else. …What did [Jordan] do from the free-throw line? He didn't kill them from the free-throw line.
"You have to still continue to play your game. And the Rockets didn't."