With just one 2nd Round series set (and in dramatic fashion last night, no less), and four more teams facing elimination tonight, the NBA playoffs are in full swing. And who wouldn't be enthralled? Even the gift-wrapped Eastern Conference has been witness to some borderline comically interesting games, to say nothing of the suddenly wide-open West. But one thing about these last few games I haven't liked, and maybe you've noticed this as well, is that the players don't seem to be deciding the games. Royce? Your thoughts?
The players were following orders: Stop the game because we don’t like how it’s going; don’t compete on the floor because you’re not good enough to win this playoff home game against the No. 8 seed; do not try for steals and blocks and stops; let’s keep our own crowd out of the game; let’s not get out and run and try to come back with the second-best player in the world doing what he does best; let’s not play basketball for a while because the Rockets are better at basketball on this night.
Ah it's basketball intelligentsia blog Truehoop's favorite whipping boy again: the intentional foul. Down 14 just after the final quarter began, the Thunder soon began to purposefully send Omer Asik and his career 52% FT shooting to the charity stripe. Despite an uncharacteristically good 11-for-16 4th quarter free throw performance from Asik, OKC had clawed to within 6 on a Reggie Jackson triple with around four minutes remaining. Success? NO!!!!!!
So it’s not their fault. They never had a real chance. They never had a real chance at a thriller of a comeback win. They never had a chance to do the thing they’ve trained their entire lives to do. They didn’t even get 48 minutes to show fans watching in the arena and on TNT and around the world that they could win Game 5 on talent.
How many times will we get to see Kevin Durant try to lead a series-clinching comeback win in the final five minutes of a nationally televised Game 5? Not many, and that rare opportunity Wednesday night was taken from us, and from him. With OKC stopping the clock and letting Houston set up its defense, Durant didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter.
They....kind of did have a chance, though? A pretty good chance, really. And we did see Durant try to lead a series-clinching comeback in the final five minutes. But then he turned the ball over twice, committed two unintentional fouls (and one technical), and missed all 3 of his shots. Sometimes it just doesn't happen for you, even if you're the 2nd best player in the league.
Look, I hear you. Personally, I wanted to see the series extended, but for a casual fan just tuning in, maybe it's a little frustrating to see a superstar like Durant stymied in a big time game. But Houston was playing well. Asik was somewhat unexpectedly perfect from the line in the final 4 minutes, so maybe if Scott Brooks decided to ease up a bit on the fouls, they could have momentarily stiffened up their abominable defense and made a run at it. NO!!!!!
And it’s hard to blame Thunder coach Scott Brooks for trying to win...
But it’s easy to blame a system that puts the game in the hands of the coaches and referees and the rulebook instead of the players.
The league has an enormous amount of intentional fouling of all kinds. The league continues to say it has the best athletes in the world.
It’s amazing that it would reward fouling at the expense of those athletes.
Here's the crazy thing: Omer Asik is an amazing athlete, too. He amazingly exceeded his (amazingly) bad average free throw percentage and amazingly won the game for an amazingly big underdog. If anything, Kevin McHale chose to put the game in Asik's hands rather than take him out of the game, meaning a player did decide this game, even if if wasn't the player you wanted.
Despite Stern's best intentions, the intentional foul isn't going away. It's already a moot point in the final 2 minutes of the game, and by design isn't terribly useful except in the rare situations where a bottom-5 free throw shooter isn't taken out of a marginally close high-stakes game. We're not even certain it works if a team is up three and trying to prevent a game-tying shot, so why eliminate the strategy? Because there aren't enough dunks? That's totally absurd, but what other reason could there possibly be?
The NBA is the greatest basketball league in the world, without a doubt. Sooner or later, it will stop rewarding intentional violence and intentional fouls, as other basketball leagues have done.
Well, it's a damn violent game.