Warriors coach Mark Jackson has no shortage of critics regarding his decision to foul Dwight Howard intentionally so often Thursday night, leading to Howard taking an NBA-record 39 free throws. Safe to say the plan backfired as Howard finished with 45 points, 21 coming from the free throw line.
Fans and analysts alike were puzzled at Jackson’s strategy.
TNT’S KENNY SMITH: “Hack-a-Shaq was an effective (strategy) because the Lakers were a great team. So to stay with them, that was a good method. The Orlando Magic aren’t a good enough team that you have to foul Dwight Howard every time.”
But a few others were puzzled by Jackson’s decision. And they were in the Warriors’ locker room.
Talked to several players away from the cameras after Thursday night’s game. They didn’t understand why Jackson chose the route he did. Actually, they did understand the logic. What they didn’t understand was why Jackson felt they had no shot at defending Howard. A few players said they felt like the combination of Andris Biedrins, Ekpe Udoh and David Lee could’ve combined to hold Howard to less than 45 and 23.
There is some evidence for they could have limited Howard. Last year, when Orlando came here, Howard finished with 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting. He did have 21 rebounds, but he was hardly as dominant. And those three were (Biedrins, Lee, Udoh) defending him.
Before Thursday, Howard averaged 16.9 points on 55.4 percent shooting with 13.7 rebounds. Even if they could hold him to 20 and 15, the Warriors probably win that game.
DAVID LEE: “It’s a chance you take. We chose to do that. We chose to play him head-up on the block. It fouled Andris (Biedrins) and Ekpe (Udoh) and myself at the end there. … Dwight had a good game to his create and in the second half hit his free throws. We took a chance. Coach had the idea to do that and we stand behind our coach. It didn’t work out this time, maybe it worked out next time. But we took a chance and said we wanted Dwight to beat us and he beat us.”
To be sure, no player seemed mad at Jackson nor blamed him for the loss. But they were surprised Jackson not only went with Hack-a-Howard, but stuck with it.
Jackson had a few other options. One was to double-team Howard and make the others beat you. Especially once Jason Richardson went down with a knee injury, the Magic fewer weapons who could hurt the Warriors.
Jackson, with understandable logic, said he preferred to play Howard one-on-one and keep him away from the basket (by fouling when he gets close) than to allow the supporting cast to get hot from 3-point range.
JACKSON: “If you watch the Orlando magic, you can take two avenues. That’s playing Dwight Howard single-coverage or that’s doubling him and leaving the four shooters on the floor wide open. Those are knock-down shooters that they have. Dwight Howard, as great as he is, you can live with him on the offensive end away from the rim. He certainly can have big days, but I’d take those chances over leaving pure shooters open.”
Jackson could have also used offense for defense by having players go at Howard. He is an all-world defender, but making him play defense on his man instead of swatting shots from the weakside might have exposed Howard to some foul trouble. True, the Warriors have few players with the skills to attack Howard. But Lee, who played center for years in New York, has had big games against Dwight before by going at him.
No doubt, they clearly respect Jackson, and the moxie it took to go with and stick with such a game plan. None of the players I talked to seemed angry at Jackson or blamed him for the loss. But you got the sense that some players would have liked a crack at defending Howard instead of being pawns in a gimmicky game plan.