Professional athletes do and say a lot of mean things to each other over the course of a game, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anything as disrespectful as the Rockets’ bench treating Andre Roberson’s bricked free throw into a live comedy special.
Roberson went 2-of-12 from the free-throw line in Game 4, and the late-game stretch in which the Rockets intentionally sent him to the line over and over again was one of the most brutal bits of basketball I’ve ever seen. Roberson had played great defense on James Harden all afternoon, and it hurt to watch him be forced to stand there and shoot his team out of the game.
But if you can’t make your free throws, then maybe you shouldn’t be on the court, which makes Billy Donovan just as responsible for the loss as Roberson’s bricks. Donovan could have called a timeout and gotten Roberson out of there before things got too ugly, but instead he left him in to miss shots and suffer. His explanation for doing so was not very convincing:
I thought it was important as a coach that I show confidence in him. He did make a couple of them. There wasn’t a huge disparity, I don’t think, when they did that. It probably broke the momentum of the game a little bit, with what was going on. Andre, obviously, the job that he’s done has been remarkable the entire series, and this was a great opportunity for him to learn and grow through some of that.
Showing confidence in your players and giving them opportunities to learn and grow are fine things for a coach to do, but perhaps the last few minutes of a pivotal playoff game is the time to forgo such noble pursuits in favor of trying to win. The Rockets started fouling Roberson with about four minutes left, and so Donovan only had to sit Roberson for two minutes in order to neutralize the strategy. Instead, the Thunder lost by four points and Roberson got laughed at on national TV. I think Donovan’s strategy for instilling confidence in his player may have backfired.