In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers and Rockets conspired to murder the playoffs. Since then, the Clips have gotten their Point God back, gotten a taste for the Rockets’ blood, and taken a 3-1 series lead. As for the Rockets, they’re still trying to ruin this for everyone, and it’s time for them to get the hell out of here.
Last night, the Rockets managed to turn a second-round NBA playoff game into a mid-August, extra-innings baseball game between two last-place teams. Dispensing with all sense of shame, Kevin McHale ordered a rotation of scrubs to spend the entire first half hacking away at DeAndre Jordan, sending the big man with a broken shot to the line 28 times in two quarters. Twenty-eight times! That’s a record! It was miserable to watch, and after a while it started to feel like all of the players on the floor were embarrassed to be there.
It wasn’t just the fouling that made the game unwatchable, though; it was also the fact that the Rockets couldn’t make anything happen on the other end of the floor. If they had been hacking the Clippers into empty possessions and then kicking ass on offense, that might have been something worth watching, but the Rockets instead spent most of their extra offensive possessions beating their own heads in with bricks. At on point late in the second quarter, the Rockets earned themselves 10 possessions over the span of about four minutes while fouling Jordan, and they didn’t score a single point on any of those possessions. Watching it all unfold, I could have sworn that the scent of spoiled milk was emanating from the TV
There have already been plenty of arguments laid out both against and in favor of the hack-a-player strategy, and there’s no reason to dive down that rabbit hole today—although I would submit that anyone who vigorously defends the rule misunderstands the root purpose of a free-throw, which is to punish fouling rather than reward it—and last night was more of an indictment of the Rockets than the strategy itself. There’s a sense of purpose to the practice when coaches like Gregg Popovich deploy it here and there, but last night it felt like Kevin McHale was flinging bodies at Jordan out of simple desperation. This was a supposed powerhouse in the Western Conference, just clear of getting roasted by Austin Rivers and unable to pull its offense out of the toilet, throwing its hands up and deciding that next-level fuckery was its best shot at winning the game. Here’s hoping the Clippers finish them off early in Game 5, because the playoffs deserve better.