The NBA has typically waved off any push to reform so-called "Hack-a-Shaq" rules by noting that two players, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, serve as the targets of the vast majority of these intentional fouls. The league will at minimum have to admit that a third name belongs on that list after the events of the second half between the Rockets and Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.
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Down 56-47 to the visiting Pistons at halftime, interim Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff entered the third quarter with a clear concept of what his team should do — foul center Andre Drummond, a 35.4-percent shooter from the line on the season, at every opportunity. Reserve wing K.J. McDaniels started the half and grabbed Drummond five times in the opening nine seconds to put the Pistons into the penalty. Here's a look at that bizarre scene:
K.J. McDaniels fouled Andre Drummond 5 times in 9 secondshttps://t.co/qZALdbX6Q0
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 21, 2016
Naturally, those fouls were only the means to the end of sending Drummond to the line as many times as possible. Bickerstaff had his team do that on the following seven possessions, giving Drummond a total of 16 free throws in the opening 2:33 of the quarter. He made only five of them before Stan Van Gundy substituted Aron Baynes with 9:22 remaining after Drummond's own intentional foul to stop the clock. The Rockets trailed just 61-60 at that point and took the lead shortly thereafter, so it's hard to deny that the extreme fouling tactic was an immediate success.
It did not necessarily work over the long term. Baynes played out the quarter as the Pistons took back control and rebuilt their lead to 85-77 by the third-period buzzer. Drummond re-entered at the start of the fourth and helped the Pistons build the margin up to 99-88 with 7:39 remaining in regulation, at which point Rockets big man Montrezl Harrell fouled Drummond three times in five seconds to enter the penalty again. Yet that move backfired because he made 4-of-6 attempts on three-straight possessions to ensure Houston would not try it again. Drummond left the game with 5:26 left to make it even loss of an issue, and the Pistons held on for a 123-114 win. He finished at 13-of-36 from the line for the bulk of his 17 points but set an NBA record with 23 misses. Drummond failed to match Howard's league record of 39 attempts, but perhaps he'll get another shot at the mark soon enough.
Van Gundy didn't seem to appreciate it on aesthetic grounds. From Kristie Rieken for the Associated Press:
''It wasn't a chess match, it was just they wanted to foul and we let them foul,'' Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. [...]
''That's the game the league wants, so that's what fans get to watch,'' Van Gundy said.
It's wrongheaded to blame the Rockets for this absurdity, because fouling Drummond got them back into the game and legitimately looked like their best defense on a night when they had trouble defending the Pistons as a whole. Howard followed a dynamic statistical performance on Monday night vs. the Clippers by spraining his ankle within the opening minute and being ruled out for the remainder of the contest. That unfortunate injury left the Rockets with poor options for containing Drummond, a double-double machine capable of controlling the paint at both ends. He finished with a plus-10 despite Houston's third-quarter run.
Nevertheless, Bickerstaff said it didn't work out. From Rieken again:
''It didn't work,'' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''That's it. That's all I have to say about that.''
McDaniels saw his atypical responsibility as part of the job:
KJ McDaniels on his five intentional fouls in nine seconds: "Anything for my teammates. I know they'd do anything for me. "
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 21, 2016
It certainly didn't work for anyone watching the game. While it's a little inexact to say that sending a player to the line over and over again "isn't basketball" given that the rules allow it, it's downright enervating to watch and not an ideal product for a league that ultimately sells entertainment above all else. Intentional fouling is also increasingly common, with seemingly each team having at least one player who gets sent to the line in opportune moments.
Arguments for and against changing the rules have been enumerated enough times that we don't have to recount them here. Yet it seems increasingly clear that commissioner Adam Silver will have to address the issue directly (via either rule changes or an explanation for not enacting them) before the start of next season, because the fouling is only becoming a bigger story around the league. That clarification will also help teams in the long run, because the current rules appear to affect the long-term value of regular targets like Drummond.
If the rules do eventually change, then it'll at least get fans to focus on the more free-flowing aspects of the sport. Wednesday's game offered much more, including impressive balance for Detroit (each starter scored at least 17 points) and a very prolific triple-double for James Harden (33 points on 9-of-22 FG, 17 rebounds, and 14 assists:
But everyone focused on a single player missing 23 free throws. We'll have to wait a few months to see if the NBA decides that's an acceptable outcome to a game between many of the best athletes in the world.
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