It finally happened. I knew this day was coming, and frankly I'm a little surprised it took this long to arrive. But for coaches devoid of other ideas about how to win basketball games, it was only a matter of time until an end of the bench player started fouling at the start of a period for the sole purpose of entering the bonus immediately. If intentionally fouling is a good strategy, then it only makes sense to maximize your opportunities, right? That's Econ 101.
At the beginning of the second half Wednesday night in a game between Houston and Detroit, J.B. Bickerstaff inserted little-used guard K.J. McDaniels and he proceeded to foul Andre Drummond five times in nine seconds before the Pistons ever entered the front court. (As an aside, since the first four fouls don't really matter, why didn't Bickerstaff have McDaniels foul five different guys, saving Drummond for last? Drummond gets hugged enough. Maybe spread the love a little, know what I'm saying?)
As anyone who has read this blog knows, I've been arguing for a rule change to end this practice for many years. The incredible short-sightedness of the NBA NOT to change the rule has always confounded me, not least because it has long been obvious, at least to me, that the abuse was only ever going to escalate. Commissioner Adam Silver's lame excuses for maintaining the status quo ("It's not that bad, it's only affecting two teams, it doesn't hurt ratings") were always bullshit, and his failure to see this coming is inexcusable. Of course they fouled Drummond five times in nine seconds. I knew this day was coming. Why didn't Silver?
I suppose it's possible that Silver STILL believes that all of this is just a part of the game and that the "strategy" itself is entertaining. If so, he's delusional. No one wants to watch Andre Drummond shoot 36 free throws. No one thinks J.B. Bickerstaff is a genius for using K.J. McDaniels to ruin a game. Stop trying to justify it.
Then there's the "Drummond and DeAndre Jordan should just learn to shoot their free throws." Fair enough. Maybe they're simply not worthy of the sport of basketball. Then again, they were both just chosen among the 30 finalists for the Olympic team by USA Basketball, so someone seems to think they're OK. Oh, and FIBA long ago made any "unsportsmanlike" foul (which includes any and all intentional fouls off the ball) two shots and the ball out of bounds -- because they actually get it.
Here's the other thing I don't get. Isn't Houston, playing at home, supposed to be at least as good as Detroit? (Yeah, I know, Dwight Howard got hurt. Still. Deal with it.) I mean to say, does Bickerstaff have so little faith in his team that he feels he has no choice other than to resort to what is by any standard a desperation strategy? It's not like they were down 30 at half. They were down nine. Dig in, play some defense. You know try playing basketball.
The thing about the hacking strategy, as I've explained in detail, is that it rarely works. Even when it works, it doesn't really work. By that I mean, yes, Houston cut into their deficit and even took the lead briefly, but because they were relying on a non-basketball strategy, they never really got a handle on the game. Are there cases when it has worked? Sure, a few. But I guarantee you that a much higher percentage of nine point deficits are overcome by playing better than are overcome by intentionally fouling. Even with Drummond missing an NBA record 23 times, the Rockets lost the game. That's just embarrassing. You'd think the shame would be enough to end the practice.
I've learned over time not to assume that we've reached a tipping point. What seems painfully obvious to me is clearly not so obvious to Adam Silver. Having said that, I can at least HOPE that Wednesday's farce is another reason that the NBA will FINALLY make a rule change to curtail this practice.
But if you think this is rock bottom, it's not. An active NBA roster has 13 players; Bickerstaff played 11 last night, including McDaniels and his 1200 fouls per 36 minutes (that's not hyperbole, that's the actual rate). Which means that Houston had another 13 meaningless, end of the bench fouls he could have thrown at Drummond. And eventually someone will do just that if the rule is not changed.