The Houston Rockets knew they wanted to foul Andre Drummond intentionally. They needed to do something to make up a halftime deficit and Drummond is a horrid 35-percent free throw shooter. Except, there was one problem. Five fouls need to be committed in order to reach the penalty before automatic trips to the free throw line go into effect.
How did Houston solve this conundrum? By sending out little-used K.J. McDaniels to foul Drummond five times in the first 10 seconds of the third period.
The sequence was one of the most bizarre you could imagine. Houston was trailing by nine at halftime and wanted to ignite a comeback. Drummond is one of the league's worst free throw shooters and a typical hacking target. Usually, teams will wait until they're in the penalty before actually turning to that strategy, but the Rockets didn't want to wait. They put McDaniels in the second-half starting lineup to foul Drummond every time the ball was put into play.
It's a game log unlike anything you've ever seen:
The Rockets did this because non-shooting fouls don't lead to automatic free throws until a team is in the penalty, which happens starting with the fifth foul in a quarter. Houston took an unusually aggressive approach to this problem by actually forcing itself into the penalty in order to expedite its plan to hack Drummond. Rather than have those fouls stack up against players who actually see the court, coach J.B. Bickerstaff subbed in a reserve who could take the five fouls and immediately return to the bench.
The most amazing part? The strategy worked ... for a little while
Houston quickly made up its nine-point deficit by forcing Drummond to take free throw after free throw. It took less than three minutes for the Rockets to tie the game and less than four to take a lead. The Pistons didn't take their first field goal attempt of the period until the 9:02 mark because Drummond got fouled on every possession.
The move worked because Drummond indeed struggled from the charity stripe. The Rockets fouled him 12 times in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the second half and the Pistons big man went 5-of-16 on the resulting free throws.
For the game, Drummond hit 13 of 36 shots from the charity stripe, setting a new NBA record with 23 missed free throws in a game.
The Pistons had to respond to the hacking by pulling Drummond from the game in order to settle things down. They tried calling timeout before the 12th and final intentional foul, which failed. That forced Drummond himself to intentionally foul Corey Brewer to force a stoppage in play.
Stan Van Gundy looked very unnerved by the whole sequence:
One has to wonder if this will expedite a change to the intentional foul rule, which we advocated last May. The whole thing sure worked out well for the Rockets, but it was a bore for neutrals to watch. At least we got some funny Van Gundy faces out of it.
Alas, the move was merely a temporary measure. Drummond eventually re-entered the game and the Pistons attacked the basket relentlessly, drawing real shooting fouls and eventually regaining a double-digit lead. Once the Rockets had to actually play defense again, they promptly fell apart.
Oh well, Rockets. Points for originality.
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