It's astounding that the 1-seed Oklahoma City Thunder needed to employ the "Hack-Asik" strategy in the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets, but it was the only thing they had in their arsenal to slow the game down.
If you look at the pace of the game, it seemed like the Rockets were running all over the Thunder throughout. The Thunder would get a little rhythm going, cut the lead down to single digits and then the Rockets would take the momentum right back with big shots and dribble penetration. It was a style that the opposing guards of Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, and Kevin Martin just weren't capable of keeping up with and matching during Game 5.
The only way to slow the game down for OKC was to start hacking the worst free throw shooter in the Rockets lineup. This was a strategy that Scott Brooks used in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in 2012 when the San Antonio Spurs were running all over his team. The Thunder turned to putting Tiago Splitter on the line, and while the Spurs still won the game, it allowed the Thunder to catch their breath and figure out in real time what worked and didn't work for them on the court.
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From that moment on, the Thunder managed to take down the Spurs and move on to the NBA Finals.
Maybe that will be the effect it has on this Rockets-Thunder series, but the strategy certainly didn't work in helping them close out this game. In the fourth quarter, Omer Asik took 16 free throws, as Brooks slowed the pace of this game to a drunken crawl to the bathroom to vomit. Fourteen of those free-throw attempts came from intentionally fouling Asik whenever the Rockets inbounded the ball (the last two came after an offensive rebound and putback attempt).
The problem for OKC is Asik was pretty good at the line during this desperate tactic. He made 9 of the 14 attempts while being intentionally fouled and hit his last two free throws after the offensive rebound. He was the leading scorer for the fourth quarter with 11 points, all coming on free throws. It was a stark contrast to Kevin Durant going scoreless in the final period on his five shots.
During this time, the Thunder didn't really find anything that worked offensively with the slowed down pace. Reggie Jackson managed to score nine points during the Hack-Asik strategy, but the flow of the game was taken away from the Thunder outside of his explosion. And because Asik hit a good percentage of his freebies, the strategy just simply didn't slow down anything except the beat writers on deadline in the arena.
Did the Thunder learn anything about themselves during this strategy tonight? Did the Rockets learn that the Thunder might be out of answers right now and fear where this series could be heading? We'll find out in Game 6 on Friday.