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Quick thought on 'Whack-A-Wallace' strategy

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David Friedman:

Detroit Coach Flip Saunders made an interesting--and by interesting, I mean suspect--decision after Billups' three pointer made the score 90-83 with 2:46 left. The Bulls had made just two shots in the previous two and a half minutes but he decided to employ the "Hack A Ben," intentionally fouling Ben Wallace. Supposedly, this strategy is "playing the percentages" but I think that somebody needs to recalculate the math on this one. If an NBA team scores on 50% of its possessions it is doing well; that works out to a point per possession (or slightly more once you add in the occasional three pointer or three point play). So as long as Wallace makes at least one out of two free throws, the "Hack A Ben" strategy is not likely to produce any advantage. From a non-mathematical standpoint, this strategy takes away any chance of forcing a turnover or missed shot, takes your own team out of its natural offensive rhythm and allows the Bulls to set up a half court defense as opposed to possibly having to stop a transition score. Also, the hacked player often seems to concentrate more because he resents being singled out. Sure enough, Wallace made three out of four free throws and the Pistons failed to score on either of the following possessions. What kind of message is Saunders sending to his team if he doesn't think that they can come back from seven down with 2:46 left without resorting to gimmicks? That is just a three possession game. Even if the Bulls used up the whole shot clock, the Pistons would have gotten the ball back with 2:22 left. Score quickly and it is a two possession game. One more stop and one more score and it is a one possession game with more than one minute left. This is the kind of decision that may not make a difference in this series but could matter in a closer series. It is interesting that one of the bones of contention between Ben Wallace and Saunders last year was that Wallace felt like the Pistons were getting away from their identity as a strong man to man defensive team. Now the Pistons play zone and resort to the "Hack a Ben."

I found it interesting, anyway.

Even DetroitBadBoys found the strategy 'ugly', but I wish it were just illegal.

It may seem like sour grapes now that the Bulls have Wallace, but I never really understood how intentionally fouling a player wasn't called an intentional foul (which is 2 shots and the ball? or something). The best example was in the '04 Western Conference Finals when Mark Madsen would bearhug Shaq while telling the refs he's trying to foul him. If I were a ref I'd say "you sure? ok", and call an intentional foul.

They partially rectified this by penalizing off-the-ball fouls before the last 2 minutes, but it really should be the whole game. One problem is giving the refs the ability to subjectively determine 'intentional', but in the case of Shaq or Wallace it's pretty obvious.

The league should realize nobody watches games so they can see the 'strategy' of Flip Saunders. Hell, they shouldn't want to subject the viewer to seeing a Ben Wallace free throw either. I don't begrudge Flip for using the ploy as long as the NBA allows him to. Plus, the very use of the strategy means the game is close in the first place.