The Atlanta Hawks started intentionally fouling Andre Drummond on Wednesday night with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter. For a game that didn't tip off until 8:11 p.m. ET, after a full day at the office prior to heading to the game, imagine my excitement to see the game reduced in such a way.
After Drummond split six free throws, he was subbed out with the Pistons minus-two since the strategy was implemented. The Hawks started doing it again while up one with 8:39 on the clock in the second quarter, fouling Dre on three of the Pistons' next eight possessions. Dre went 2-6 and was once again replaced with the Pistons then down four. The Hawks finished the quarter outscoring the Pistons 19-7 to take a 16-point lead into the half.
Of course, this is neither a new tactic nor topic of discussion. Our very own Ben Gulker challenged Sean Corp to an age-old debate on our most recent podcast. Even GQ has an opinion on it.
This goes back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, when players would foolishly chase a running-and-hiding Chamberlain around the court trying to foul him and challenge the career 51-percent free throw shooter to beat them from the stripe. The simple position for the NBA to take then would have been to tell Chamberlain to make his free throws. But they didn't; they decided that the best thing for the game was to create a rule that would prevent off-the-ball fouls within two minutes to improve watchability and so that the face of their game wasn't essentially getting pantsed in front of fans every night.
Like many old rules, loopholes are discovered and exploited in ways wherein something is technically legal, but it's clear the rules need updating to prevent that detrimental something from continuing to happen. While the NBA has sat on its hands (or the fence), teams over the years have technically played the rules into their advantage to create some ridiculous "basketball," that is not fun to watch -- and you're lying if you think it's fun to watch. It might be eye-grabbing like a car crash, but it's still a wreck and nobody's really better for it -- someone could be hurt (though I don't really believe these fouls are injurious) and now things are moving annoyingly slow! Eventually you want the road to clear.
For the involved parties, it's not any better. It's like bullying your little brother in Madden using the same slant play or roll out with old school Michael Vick over and over again. Obviously your brother is losing his mind, but it also starts to feel almost wrong for you to continue to do. Even the Hawks seemed to feel at least a little dirty by intentionally fouling Dre on Wednesday night. At one point they put in body Mike Muscala for the sole purpose of fouling Dre. Almost as if he was told to act like he didn't have one job to do, Muscala reacted like he couldn't believe the whistle, and then he was immediately pulled to never return. Good game, kid. Hit the showers. Why the showmanship? After the game, Al Horford said, "I'm not crazy about it," but it works and nobody's denying that.
Until the rules change, teams will continue to do it and teams disadvantaged by it will say what won't get them fined. Stan Van Gundy's going to continue saying Drummond needs to make his free throws and Drummond, who works harder at it than anybody is willing to give him credit for until he starts making more, knows it better than anyone.
Hypnowheel and I discussed the intentional fouling before the game and again during halftime, and we agreed that the rules need to be updated. For my third analogy of this post, I'll borrow Hypnowheel's: It's punishing offensive linemen in football for not throwing spirals. It's not what makes Drummond who he is, and worse, it's encouraging and providing an advantage to teams who get whistled for breaking the rules.
The solution seems simple, too: Make breaking the rules a clear disadvantage for the rule breakers. A widely suggested fix is to give the fouled team in the penalty the option to shoot free throws or decline the foul and take the ball out of bounds, kind of like you can decline penalties that put you in a worse position in football. This can be the case until the final two minutes when teams intentionally foul on the ball to try and get back into the game. The same rules in existence can apply for off-the-ball fouls with the small exception of giving refs more discretion in calling fouls like this J.J. Redick foul on Drummond more than a regular loose ball foul. Or put in writing something like, "Do not climb another player's back, please, or refs can whistle you for a flagrant one or two, in the sole discretion of the referee, depending on how high up the back you climb." Something exactly like that.
Seriously, the NBA's already tipped their hand on this issue in the past and tinkering some language and how that language is carried out is a lot easier and better for the game overall. Drummond should make more free throws, yes, and he should make more free throws regardless of the rules, but that's a separate mental flaw that's more difficult and personal to fix. The game as a whole is more important than what one fan base has to endure watching Drummond or DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard brick 15-20 free throws in a game. It's not so much as "bitching and moaning" about how poor Pistons fans have to watch their best player brick shots and get removed from the game as it is common sense for the overall betterment of the game.
So get off that fence, Silver, and make positive change when you discuss this in your meetings in May and June 2016.