Will the Oklahoma City Thunder Hack-a-Splitter Again in Game 3?
Basketball purists watching must have been filled with glee as they witnessed near perfection. The Spurs constantly moved the ball, found the open man, and knocked down shots both on the perimeter and in the paint. They completely dismantled the Thunder defense (which is no slouch with its long, athletic defenders) and scored 37 points in the third quarter.
And then it all stopped. Literally. And abruptly.
With just over two minutes in the third, the Thunder tried to slow the Spurs barrage by intentionally fouling Tiago Splitter, their worst free throw shooter at 69 percent for the season. The Thunder fouled Splitter four consecutive times, who hit four of his eight free throws. And while the Thunder effectively threw a wrench in the beautifully running Spurs engine, they failed to cut into their 16-point deficit and were still down exactly 16 by the end of the third quarter.
And they turned a very enjoyable and fast-paced third quarter into a long, drawn out grind.
Which raises the question: is the “hack-a-player” strategy a legitimate, let alone effective, defensive option?
Of course Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t the only culprit in using the sluggish and disruptive tactic. Spurs coach Greg Popovich did the same thing to Reggie Evans when his team played the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round. Nearly everyone used the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy when Shaquille O’Neal would go off in the paint.
And while it’s seen some success historically, the method is similar to the flopping epidemic currently plaguing the league. It doesn’t aim to fool the refs into making an incorrect call, but it does eschew playing real defense in favor of an easy way out. Instead of trying to get stops and force turnovers, they gamble on the opposing team’s shooting. Instead of trying to change the tempo on the merit of their own defensive accomplishments, they rely wholly on their opponents’ shortcomings to disrupt the flow of the game.
It’s a curious argument, because if players would simply put in the effort to improve shooting perhaps the easiest shot in the game, “hack-a-player” wouldn’t even be an option. Likewise, if teams would simply play better defense instead of electing to use a strategy completely devoid of skill, they might have a better chance.
In any case, Brooks seems to be a gambling man, suggesting after Game 2 that the Thunder will hack-a-Splitter again if the need arises. And judging by the way the Spurs have been flying through the 2012 postseason, they might have to flip the coin again in Game 3.