Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Portland Trailblazers Initiate "Hack-a-Shaq"

On May 20, 2000, the Portland Trailblazers played against the Los Angeles Lakers in a playoff game, but the big news was what happened to Shaquille O’Neal on that day.
Shaquille O'Neal (right) and Kobe Bryant (left) hug it out during Game 1 of the series with the Portland Trailblazers in 2002.
For years, NBA teams had taken advantage of poor free throw shooters by intentionally fouling them and forcing them to hit freebies. The most prevalent form of this strategy was the "Hack-a-Shaq," named after Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq's 350-pound body was so strong and so imposable that teams would occasionally wrap him up in an attempt to take advantage of his weak foul-shooting.

Usually though, this type of intentional fouling was limited to only a few hacks a game. Never before had the Hack-a-Shaq technique been employed as a regular defense. Yet that's exactly what happened in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, when the Portland Trail Blazers visited the Los Angeles Lakers. Portland was so overpowered by O'Neal that they implemented the Hack-a-Shaq for the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. When it was all said and done, O'Neal had taken 25 free throws in under six minutes and made 12 of them. Overall, he finished with 41 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks.

The strategy temporarily worked, as the Blazers were able to cut it to a nine-point game with just under five minutes left. But Shaq caught fire at the line and made seven in a row down the stretch. The Lakers won, 109-94, in one of the slowest fourth quarters in league history.

"Obviously, if we get down in a game, that's what we're going to do," said Portland coach Mike Dunleavy. "Had we scored a few more times, we would have put ourselves in position to win. He's a great player. I like Shaq a lot. He just can't make his free throws."

Many were furious at Dunleavy's decision, which had reduced the pace of the game to a crawl. But many coaches were intrigued. Putting a player like Shaq, who hit less than half of his freebies, on the charity stripe instead of letting him score wasn't all that crazy an idea -- at least in a desperate situation like the Blazers were in.

Just a couple weeks later, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Pacers coach Larry Bird took it to the next level. With his team getting stomped by Los Angeles, Bird had his team foul O'Neal on almost every possession in the fourth quarter. Shaq attempted a record 39 free throws in that game and made 19 of them. The Pacers were able to mount a slight comeback, though it wasn't enough to get them back in the game. Los Angeles won, 111-104. Shaq finished with 40 points and 24 rebounds.