AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- With his team holding a four-point lead late in its game against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt instructed the Cavs to send Detroit big man Andre Drummond to the foul line.
Drummond, a 39.7 percent career free-throw shooter, has been subject to the “Hack-a-whomever” tactic many times before. But in this instance, the decision backfired on Blatt and the Cavs.
Drummond went to the line with 2 minutes, 58 seconds remaining and the Cavs up 97-93. He made both to cut Cleveland's lead in half. After a Kevin Love turnover led to a Reggie Jackson jumper on the other end to tie the game 97-97 on the next possession, Blatt returned to the strategy. This time Drummond went 1-of-2.
“That probably ended up helping us a lot,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters. “They ended up giving us some points when we didn’t have to do anything except go to the line. And he made them.”
Before the “Attack-an-Andre” was implemented, the Cavs had the advantage. Afterward, they found themselves playing from behind with just 2:06 left in the game as they went on to lose 104-99.
“Andre is 40 percent from the line and we didn’t use it for a good part of the game, we thought perhaps we could gain a possession or two,” Blatt said when asked to explain his reasoning. “And unfortunately he made them, went 3-for-4 at those moments.”
When Blatt decided to foul Drummond, the Pistons’ center was 2-for-5 (40 percent) from the foul line for the game -- right on his average. The Pistons, meanwhile, were 7-from-17 (41.2 percent) from the field in the fourth quarter up until that point.
“I mean, I’ll ride with whatever the coaches want to do,” LeBron James said when asked what he thought about the decision. “If he misses both, then we’ll go down on the offensive end. [He] shoots 40 percent from the free-throw line, sometimes you got to go with the statistics. I’d like to see if we can get a stop, but obviously we wasn’t getting no stops in the fourth, so you know.”
Blatt railed against the “Hack-a-whomever” rule last season, calling it “more than unsavory” and later saying he wanted the rule changed to be more in line those of European leagues. However, Blatt also said that as long as the rule exists, he would consider having it at his disposal. He pointed this out to reporters Tuesday.
“To be fair, I said what I said last year, but I did say we would use it if we felt it was necessary because those were the rules,” Blatt said. “And we did. Didn’t work out for us, though, tonight.”
Blatt was asked about the rarity of employing the strategy with his team ahead, versus the more common coming-from-behind scenario.
“Again, just the idea of being able to gain a possession or two at a critical moment,” Blatt said. “Up to that point he had not shot those very well if you look at it statistically, but he made three out of four in a key moment. He really did.”
Free throw troubles seemed to be the theme of the night for the Cavs. They shot just 12-for-20 as a team (60 percent) after coming into the game ranked 29th in the league in the category.
Part of their woes included missing six straight in the third quarter when Cleveland could have turned a 13-point lead into an even more comfortable cushion.
“We are [near the bottom of the league],” said James, who shot 4-for-5 but came into the night shooting the worst percentage of his career at the line. “We got to shoot better. We got to practice it a little bit more. We’re just out of rhythm as a team as far as shooting free throws, and it’s key. Tonight we didn’t shoot well again. ... We can’t put ourselves in that position.”
Love said that practice would help, but also that the team needs some reconfiguration between its ears.
“Just reps,” Love said. “It’s all mental. Free throws are all mental. We have great free-throw shooters on this team. We should be near the top of the league. That’s not going to be a common theme for us. We’re going to make our free throws. Tonight was one where they got to the line 10 or 11 more times than we did and we missed some of our free throws. We’ll knock them down.”
Blatt dismissed Love’s “mental” assessment, though he didn’t offer up a solution, either.
“It shouldn’t be,” Blatt said. “If I had the sure-fire answer to that I would be a genius. I guess I’m not.”