While Gregg Popovich is widely considered one of the best and most successful coaches in the NBA, he is also notoriously conservative in his judgement, which often flies in the face of popular thought. It’s been a tradition at the NBA Finals to have a pair of refs who work the sidelines, and the head coach often jokes about them to the media. In these moments, Popovich likes to call them the “Hack-a-Shaqs” because his team has made a habit of turning the ball over early in games, usually leading to easy baskets for the other team.
In the first quarter of the new NBA season, some fans have been making a lot of noise about the referees. Most of the bad calls have been against the Golden State Warriors, and the new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been telling some of those fans to be quiet. But on Saturday, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich took it a step further. When the refs gave the San Antonio Spurs a technical foul for a questionable foul call, Popovich told his team to take a seat and then ordered a Hack-a-Shaq from the opening tip.
The Spurs are once again looking pretty good in the Western Conference. And, as usual, Gregg Popovich is the one leading the charge. Over the years, Popovich has never been afraid to put his foot down if he feels an opposing player has made a stupid or unnecessary foul. So, when the Spurs were down to seven players, he sent in their back-up center to try to get to point guard Tony Parker.
The NBA changed its rules five years ago to attempt to limit the frequency of Hack-a-Shaq fouls against bad free-throw shooters. Shaquille O’Neal, a great center and notoriously bad foul shooter, inspired the strategy’s name. But it was carried on by guys like Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, who could shatter the rim with a foul shot. Gregg Popovich, the legendary coach of the San Antonio Spurs, was not ashamed to use the approach.
Against the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs, he utilized it a lot. O’Neal made 64 free throws in five games. He made 32, and San Antonio cruised to a 4–1 victory in the series. What occurred the following time the Spurs and Suns met that tipped the scales into the ridiculous. Coaches are constantly on the lookout for the tiniest of advantages. A team that can’t perform a basic skill like shooting a free throw has a distinct edge.
The NBA has a long history of poor free-throw shooting.
As a basketball player, Shaquille O’Neal’s greatest fault was a simple one. He couldn’t regularly make free throws. He tried a variety of methods, but none of them worked. He shot 52.7 percent in his career and is second in NBA history with 5,317 missed free throws.
He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only NBA players who have made over 5,000 foul shots. Chamberlain is the all-time leader in misses with 5,805 and a career shooting percentage of 51.1 percent. Shaq is in the bottom ten in free-throw percentage all-time, but he isn’t in the bottom five, so that’s something. The following players make up the rogue’s gallery of players who have the wrong things on the line:
- Wallace, Ben (41.4 percent )
- Chris Dudley is a British actor (45.8 percent )
- Andre Drummond is a basketball player from the United States (47.0 percent )
- Jordan, DeAndre (47.5 percent )
- Chamberlain is a member of the House of Commons (51.1 percent )
In 2016, the rules were changed in reaction to teams using excessive amounts of Bang-a-Drummond and Demolish-Andre tactics. With 23 misses in a game, Drummond owns the NBA record; Jordan is tied for second with Chamberlain with 22 missed. While it makes games more difficult to watch, it’s difficult to argue with coaches like Gregg Popovich’s rationale of lathering, rinsing, and repeating.
Gregg Popovich, as only Pop could, answers to concerns regarding Shaquille O’Neal’s approach.
Following his Spurs’ early and frequent hacking of Shaquille O’Neal during the 2008 playoffs, there were legitimate concerns about what approach coach Gregg Popovich would use for the team’s first encounter of the 2008–09 season.
The Suns and Spurs began the season against one other in San Antonio, so no one had to wait long.
The first tip was won by Phoenix. Michael Finley of San Antonio quickly wrapped around O’Neal, but it took the referees a few moments to understand what was going on. Finley was penalized for a foul five seconds into the game, and the Suns were able to get the ball out of bounds.
Popovich made the revelation when he turned to O’Neal and smiled while raising both thumbs. His assistants were laughing out loud. When Shaq understood the joke, he did as well. Phoenix defeated San Antonio 103–98 despite O’Neal shooting just eight free throws (five of which were made). Pop may have fouled him more than he deserved.
The Hack-a-Shaq was not eliminated by the regulation modification, but it was curtailed.
In the 2008 regular-season opener, Gregg Popovich mocked Shaquille O’Neal’s Hack-a-Shaq approach. | Harry E. Walker/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images | Getty Images/Richard Clement/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media
The NBA already had regulations in place for off-the-ball fouls in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime prior to the 2016–17 season. In such circumstances, the punishment was one free throw plus control of the ball was maintained by the fouled side.
The policy was extended to the final two minutes of each quarter after an update in 2016. It also explained circumstances involving inbounds traffic. Any foul committed before the ball is transferred incurs the same penalty as if it were committed in the last two minutes of the session.
It’s not very entertaining to have to watch free throw after free throw. Agonizing miss after agonizing miss eats away at the game’s beauty. Overall, the new regulations were an excellent idea.
That didn’t stop Gregg Popovich and Shaquille O’Neal from getting a few chuckles out of the situation.
Basketball Reference and Stathead provided the statistics.
RELATED: Despite having a size advantage over Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal despised playing against him: ‘It was difficult for me.’
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