After a J.J. Redick three-pointer cut the San Antonio Spurs’ lead over the Los Angeles Clippers to 88-83 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Spurs started intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan every chance they got.
It’s an aggressive strategy that takes advantage of a loophole in the NBA rules where you can foul an opponent off the ball until the last two minutes of a game and send them to the free throw line.
Jordan only shoots 39% from the free throw line, so instead of letting the Clippers run their league-best offence, the Spurs simply grabbed Jordan and forced him to beat them from the stripe.
He misses more often that not:
While the Spurs ultimately won 111-107 in overtime, the game revealed the inherent flaws with the hack-a-Jordan strategy.
During a two-minute stretch from 4:50 to 2:49 in the fourth quarter, the Spurs fouled Jordan five times. Jordan only went 4-for-10 on those free throws, but the cumulative effect of intentionally fouling him hurt the Spurs more than that free throw percentage suggests.
1. The Clippers got offensive rebounds on two of Jordan’s five trips to the line during that stretch. That isn’t some fluke. Former Phoenix Suns analyst John Ezekowitz ran the numbers for FiveThirtyEight and found that the Clippers rebound an astounding 21% of Jordan’s free throw misses. Those are possessions the Clippers wouldn’t have gotten if the Spurs had played them straight up.
2. The Spurs put themselves in serious foul trouble. Manu Ginobili fouled out with 3:51 left and after the game told a reporter that he lost track of how many fouls he had during the hack-a-Jordan stretch, saying, “I really thought I had three at the time. If I knew I had four fouls, I would have told somebody else.”
Tim Duncan picked up his fifth foul with four minutes left in regulation — meaning the Spurs’ best rim protector had to play nine minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime under the threat of fouling out. The Clips scored 23 points in those nine minutes, which would work out to 122 points over a 48-minute game.
3. The free throws let the Clippers get back on defence, and the Spurs couldn’t score on them. The Spurs started hack-a-Jordan up 88-83 with 4:50 left. After hack-a-Jordan, the lead had shrunk to 90-88 with 2:49 left. Even though Jordan missed a majority of his free throws, the Spurs’ offence struggled against L.A.’s set defence. This isn’t a fluke either. Ezekowitz calculated that the Clippers’ defence gets better by 0.04 points per possession when they’re defending after a free throw.
The Spurs still won, but that two-minute stretch shows that hack-a-Jordan has a lot of unintended side effects, and it only really works if Jordan is shooting even worse than normal.
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