LOS ANGELES -- At some point, the NBA needs to care enough about its product to eliminate the loophole in the rules that allows games to degenerate into nine players standing around watching the league's worst free-throw shooters take foul shots, while draining the sport of all its athleticism, skill and entertainment value.
That's the only thing to take away from the Los Angeles Clippers' 118-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Well, you could also take away that Blake Griffin has gotten really good at basketball, but that should have been evident before tonight.
It's also been obvious for more than a decade that intentionally fouling players who don't even have the ball has been a detriment to the sport, but the NBA continues to allow these travesties. In 2000, the Portland Trail Blazers sent Shaquille O'Neal to the free throw line 25 times in one quarter of a playoff game. Friday night, a desperate Raptors squad, behind by 20 points, commenced fouling DeAndre Jordan every time the Clippers had possession, regardless of whether he had the ball.
Jordan wound up taking 16 free throws in the quarter, making eight. The third period wound up taking 41 minutes to play, thanks to the constant stops to shoot free throws. When it ended, with Clippers coach Doc Rivers substituting for Jordan with 2:48 remaining in the quarter, the Clippers still led by 16 points.
"It changed the rhythm of the game, I will say that," Rivers said. "Because we had a great pace and we never got back to that."
Indeed, the Raptors quickly sliced the lead to nine points once Jordan left and normal basketball resumed. They had "junked the game up," as Jamal Crawford put it, but they still fared better by trying on defense, instead of allowing so many opportunities for Jordan to score.
Give even the worst free-throw shooters enough opportunities and they'll make some. The stops in play will also give the defense a chance to get set, thus making it harder for the team that's fouling to come back.
Speaking of defense, isn't that just as much a fundamental element of the game as making free throws? So spare the talk that better free-throw shooting would eliminate this. Better defense would do the job as well. (The Detroit Pistons and their ferocious defense won a championship in 2004 without resorting to gimmick fouls against O'Neal).
There are simple ways to eliminate this. Heck, the NBA already employs a deterrent in the final two minutes of games -- fouls away from the ball result in two shots plus possession. Put that rule in effect for all 48 minutes and watch the fun return.
Fouling a man without the ball is like walking someone who's sitting in the dugout.
”- J.A. Adande
"I don't know where to go on it," Rivers said.
"Maybe go to three [free throws] to make two? I don't like that."
I'm not crazy about that either, but it's better than what we see teams try to do against the likes of Jordan and Dwight Howard.
Rivers compared intentional fouls to intentional walks in baseball. But intentional walks -- with four pitches and take your base -- don't drag games out as long as fouls do. And at least walks are a deterrent against someone who poses an actual threat, in the batter's box. Fouling a man without the ball is like walking someone who's sitting in the dugout.
You won't find anyone who enjoys this stain on basketball. Not the coaches who employ it, nor the players who execute it, nor the fans who watch it. What about the networks that broadcast it, and would like to have games fit into a 2 1/2 hour window and move onto the next program? The NBA should certainly take the high-paying broadcast partners into account.
Jordan tried to put a positive spin on it.
"If I'm going to go up there and practice my free throws, then that's fine too," Jordan said.
As if that's why people pay to watch NBA basketball.