A win on Saturday, Dec. 5, against the Orlando Magic is good news for the ailing Los Angeles Clippers. They have now won four out of their last five before a big, five game road trip. However, the win wasn’t easy, and came despite being without both of their usual starting guards, J.J. Redick and Chris Paul, and playing a hot Orlando team, that was on a five game win streak. Nothing was easy, but Jamal Crawford stepped up, brought some vintage talent, dropped 32 big points, and the Clippers won 103-101.
This happy turn of events for the Clippers comes just days after a tough loss on Dec. 2 to the Paul George led Indiana Pacers. George, whose miraculous recovery last year from a season ending injury was covered by my colleague LaKesha Thompson, showed his unbelievable all-star ability and dropped 31 points. This loss to the Pacers, however, was immediately preceded by a Pyrrhic victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.
This victory was “Pyrrhic” because it only came through a painful toll which was equal to a psychological defeat. While on paper the Clippers recorded a win against the Trail Blazers, the trail that was blazed by head coach Terry Stotts was devastating. The term “Hack-a-Shaq” is thrown around a lot but is applicable whenever a team finds it beneficial to excessively commit intentional fouls against a center who can’t make free throws. This is completely legal in the NBA and DeAndre Jordan is one of those centers. During the match against the Blazers, Jordan was fouled 17 times and made just 12 out of 34 free throws. This was hardly a competitive occasion to find out which is the best and most athletic team, but rather, seemingly, a grudge match against a foe. Jordan is notorious for being unable to make a free throw and this was used to psychologically demolish his confidence by the Trail Blazers. According to basketball-reference.com, Jordan’s free-throw percentage this year is just 37.%, a career low.
It’s not just the missed points and opportunities that come from Jordan missing his free throws, it’s also not just the fact that his confidence takes a blow, or that it reminds all of us that the Clippers won’t be a contender until some of these egregious errors are fixed, but, most importantly, it is what is done to the Clippers’ pace and rhythm throughout a game. Instead of allowing Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, or Jamal Crawford to get hot and start dropping big numbers, the speed and flow of the game is interrupted, Jordan is sent the the line, and then the Clippers’ opponent gets the ball back. So instead of Crawford or Paul hitting a trey from down town, or Blake Griffin posterizing someone, we all get to watch DeAndre Jordan awkwardly try to hit the easiest point in a game of basketball, sometimes called the charity line. But he doesn’t and he can’t and the Clippers are constantly reminded about one of the weakest links in their armor.
The league has long been criticized over the rules about intentional fouling away from the ball. It does seem ridiculous since it can only be used up until the last two minutes of the game and is only used against players who can’t make free throws. But if every player in the highest league in the game could shoot free-throws then this would be a non-issue. But until big men learn how to bend their knees and toss a free-throw we’ll be stuck watching Jordan struggle. He has told the media that he constantly works on his free-throw technique, but he must be learning from Shaquille O'Neal or Dwight Howard. In fact, last spring, the Wall Street Journal called DeAndre Jordan the Worst Free-Throw Shooter of All Time. All this just goes to show, if you want to win against the Clippers, repeatedly foul Jordan and you’ll find yourselves benefiting from a crippled confidence and inability to create a good pace for the game.