By Ben Golliver
It's getting hard to keep up with all the late-game etiquette dilemmas in the NBA this season.
First, Joakim Noah launched an unnecessary three in hopes of winning hamburgers for the home crowd. Then, Caron Butler faked a high-five so that he could steal the ball during a blowout loss, embarrassing Jonas Valanciunas in the process.
Tuesday night saw the latest: Warriors coach Mark Jackson decided to intentionally foul three times during the closing minute of a 140-109 loss to the Rockets so that Houston would not set an NBA-record for three-pointers made in a game.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Jackson's logic.
"We're not going to lie down," Jackson said. "I was an old-school basketball player. I'm an old-school coach. If you can't appreciate that, that's on you. If you're going to try to get the record, we're going to stop you. ... I would expect nothing less if I was on the other side."
"If you're going to try to shoot threes, we're going to run you off the line. We're developing something here, and we're awfully proud of it."
An extraordinary measure, to be sure, but these were extraordinary times.
The Rockets set a season-high with 140 points and shot 23-for-40 from beyond the arc. Rookie Donatas Motiejunas hit Houston's 23rd three of the night to make it 130-101 with more than three minutes remaining. That shot was greeted by celebrations from a raucous Rockets bench.
Houston continued to pursue another three-pointer despite the 20+ point lead and with both teams' starters pulled from the game for garbage time. The Toyota Center crowd began cheering for the record, chanting "one more three," setting up the fireworks in the game's final minutes.
Rockets guard Patrick Beverley received a taunting technical following a dunk that made the score 136-106 with 1:04 remaining, a play that again was met with excitement from his team's bench.
When Beverley lined up a left corner three with 34 seconds remaining, Warriors forward Draymond Green went flying at him to prevent the attempt, earning a flagrant foul 2 and an automatic ejection for his efforts.
From there, the Warriors intentionally fouled two more times to prevent a record-setting attempt. The Rockets did not attempt or make another three-pointer during the sequence, finishing with 23 three-pointers on the night, tying an NBA record set by the Magic in 2009.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that Rockets coach Kevin McHale said that he wasn't going out of his way to run up the score and that he understood Jackson's position.
"I really didn't even know we had a chance to break the record until late in the game. We shoot a lot of 3s. That's just what we do. If we were to get them in the flow, we were going to get them. Mark didn't want it to happen and fouled and I didn't have no problem with how they played. Mark's got to coach his team. I have no problem with that. ... We started off the game just on fire from the 3-point line and kinda stayed that way the whole night. That doesn't happen very often."
The paper also reported that Rockets guard Jeremy Lin felt his team crossed the line a little bit when it came to celebrating Beverley's dunk but that they "meant no disrespect" in their attempt at setting the three-point record.
"Only thing I think we need to apologize for was the reaction after the dunk," Lin said. "To be honest, that wasn’t totally classy on our behalf."
Quickly, some context: the Rockets are No. 1 in the league at three-pointers attempted this season. McHale is being completely accurate when he says that's just "what they do."
How to adjudicate this mess? For starters, Houston deserves some latitude. Red94.net notes that the Rockets are among the NBA's youngest and least-experienced teams in the league. Combine that with their proclivity for launching three-pointers and the general happy-go-lucky personality of their team and they are essentially the prototype for triggering "old school" anger from the likes of Jackson.
Jackson, meanwhile, is an image-conscious competitor born in Brooklyn who thrived as a player during the bloody Eastern Conference battles of the 1990s. He's just about the last person to take a perceived slap in the face without a response. He happens to be a preacher, too, so that tells you everything you need to know about how he might value defending his principles relative to a more expedient path (playing normal defense).
In hindsight, this collision seems almost unavoidable. The Rockets are having fun in a blowout win at home and Jackson is miserable when Beverley and his teammates step ever so slightly across the decency line. Any benefit of the doubt the Warriors might be inclined to give them was gone at that point. Sure, it's unorthodox to intentionally foul three times but there is no good reason for any NBA player to ever receive a taunting technical with a 30-point lead and a little more than one-minute remaining. That's clearly unsportsmanlike and Jackson is serving his players well by standing up for them in that situation.
If the Warriors were not in the wrong by fouling, then what about the manner in which they fouled? Attempting to physically injure a player in retaliation for a blow to the ego is simply never acceptable. With that said, it's important to note that Green's foul -- a slap across the neck and under the chin as he raced out to prevent a three -- was sloppy more than than anything else. There was never a real threat to Beverley's health. The Warriors' next two intentional fouls were also given cleanly and easily.
In sum, the Rockets weren't committing a major basketball sin in piling up the points and attempting to set the three-point record, but their execution, particularly Beverley's dunk and the team's reaction, left a little to be desired. With that door opened, Jackson was on solid footing instructing his players to intentionally foul, even if he told reporters that Beverley's dunk had "nothing to do with" his decision to intentionally foul. Lastly, Green doesn't deserve to be taken to task given the specific circumstances surrounding his flagrant foul. He was working hard to follow his coach's instructions and did not seem to foul Beverley with the intention of injuring him.
That both coaches reasonably stated their positions and Lin apologized should put a bow on this affair, at least until Houston visits Oracle Arena on Feb. 12. At that point, Warriors fans will be well within their right to boo Houston mercilessly while the Warriors players now have every possible motivation to exact revenge for this game with a blowout win of their own.
Video via YouTube user mikeprada1