There’s a joke about basketball games. The joke goes that the last two minutes of the game are the longest two minutes of your life.
This comes from a novelty of the early and mid-2000’s called Hack-a-Shaq. Hack-a-Shaq was the name given to the strategy of intentionally fouling Shaquille O’Neal near the end of close games because he was a poor free-throw shooter.
In his career, he made about 52.7 percent of his free throws, with the average NBA team shooting about 75 percent from the free-throw line. It was, and still is, a perfectly acceptable strategy for NBA teams to implement simply because it works.
When a team’s worst free-throw shooter is forced to shoot, the team is less likely to score as much as they could have if the intended play had been run.
The problem is that the move did not retire with O’Neal. It lives on every day in the NBA with players such as DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and other centers who struggle to shoot free throws.
In the playoffs last season, the prime victim was Jordan. Every single game, the Rockets would repeatedly foul Jordan and force him to shoot—and subsequently miss—free throws.
In that particular playoff game between the Clippers and Rockets, the fans did not get the fast paced matchup they were hoping for. Instead, these fans sat through one of the slowest recorded games in basketball history.
In Game 4 between the Clippers and Rockets, Jordan set the NBA record for free-throw attempts in a single half. He attempted 28 free throws, making only 10 of them.
During the game, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix tweeted, “Go back and forth on Hack-a-Player rules. On one hand, practice your damn free throws. On the other, this is beyond painful to watch.”
This season, the practice of intentional fouls hit a tipping point when the Rockets went full in with fouls on Andre Drummond during the game on Jan. 20. Drummond set the record for missed free throws by missing 23 of his attempts and ended the game shooting 13-36.
The worst part of this game was the beginning of the third quarter. The Rockets brought in reserve forward KJ McDaniels who, in nine seconds, fouled Drummond five times, forcing him to shoot free throws after every foul for the rest of the game. While also being a low point in the career of McDaniels, this was intentional fouling at its worst.
If this continues, basketball may no longer be a team sport, just back and forth free throws by players who will not make them. Nothing can be done about this for now. The only hope is that the next generation of players become strong enough shooters that the prevailing strategy will be playing defense.