Shane Battier does what it takes to win. Sometimes what it takes is ugly.
Hard intentional fouls have been a focus of TrueHoop's Working Bodies series all season.
Our position: They make the game more dangerous and ugly than it has any reason to be, and the league should do something about it.
Which would be simple. These fouls happen, by and large, because NBA rules reward them. Hard fouling a player about to get an easy bucket (coaches call it "no layups") generally reduces the points a team gives up on that possession while also, importantly, discouraging future drives. An emerging body of advanced statistics show what coaches have long known: Drives are the mainstay of efficient offense.
Reducing drives is a core defensive principle, and it wins games. Intimidation is a known way to reduce them.
Increasing the penalty for these fouls is all it would take to inspire coaches to tell their players to handle players shooting layups like they already tell them to handle players shooting 3s. Play D, contest the shot, but don't foul.
Sadly, it's not aggressive or mean-spirited teams who most commonly deploy the intentional hard fouls, but the ones who best understand the risks and rewards from the rulebook.
That's not a problem players, coaches or referees can solve. That's a problem for the league office.
On every team there are some players who commit those kinds of intentional fouls. On the Heat, Shane Battier is the master of all the little things that lead to wins. That very much includes the kinds of hard fouls that a lot of people call "dirty." (On TrueHoop TV with Israel Gutierrez and Tom Haberstroh the morning after Game 1, he was everyone's pick as the game's dirtiest player.)
Battier is in the media crosshairs today for a handful of such plays in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 1 he not only sent a memorable flying knee to Roy Hibbert, but he also elbowed Tyler Hansbrough and got himself tangled up with Pacers any number of times, sometimes succeeding in getting fouls called on Pacers.
Today, amid allegations that Battier crossed a line, the Heat forward elected not to talk to the media about anything at all.
But Battier did discuss such topics with me back in March, in the days following a notable bruiser of a foul against the Pacers' Lance Stephenson, in the middle of the Heat's win streak. Battier threw the high-flying Stephenson dangerously to the ground with one hand, while using the other to whack the Pacer in the head.
I asked him about it a few days later when the Heat were in Philadelphia. Our conversation:
HA: What were you thinking on that play?
SB: Lance went to the hole and stuck the ball right in front of my face, basically.
He's a 62 percent free throw shooter.
HA: [Laughing] That's what you were thinking?
SB: Yeah! Honestly. Honestly.
HA: I believe you.
SB: You know who the guys are that you'd rather see at the line than shoot a layup. And you make him earn it.
HA: So you've seen Tom Haberstroh has reported some SportVu stats that LeBron drives are worth nearly two points per possession. So you wonder, why doesn't he drive all the time?
Fouls like that, I'm thinking, are why.
SB: Yes. Yes. We would like him fresh in April, May, hopefully June.
HA: If I'm David Stern, I want dunks. I want people watching that on TV, on smartphones all over China. Someone wrapping him up, or throwing him to the floor ... it's not good TV. It helps your team, but ...
SB: Then what's our goal? What's our goal? Television, or basketball?
HA: What's bad about dunks? What's un-basketball about that?
SB: Oh I'm all for it. As a defender ...
HA: If it helps your team to foul somebody, clearly the punishment isn't ...
SB: As punitive. No question. Now we're talking semantics. Now we're asking referees to grade intent.
HA: No. No, I want rule changes.
SB: What do you mean?
HA: So, if you're Frank Vogel, you're saying basically, well, we're not as good as that team but we can level the playing field by fouling the hell out of them.
Fouling is against the rules. Weird to help your chances by breaking the rules. Kind of like if I speed home right now and they pull me over and give me fifty bucks for breaking the law. It's a little weird.
SB: It's just part of the gamesmanship of the game.
Our job as basketball players is to exploit the rules, within reason, to our advantage. That's our job.
HA: Sure, sure. That's your job. I want you to do David Stern's job.
We'll let the commissioner and his good people worry about selling broadcast rights and whatnot.
Our job is to exploit the rules, within the rules, and get a competitive advantage which is the same in any sport across the board. Win the game. That's the only thing.
HA: Very politic.