When Elrod Enchilada emailed me this week to discuss a story he was working on about Rajon Rondo's free throw shooting, or lack thereof, it caught my attention because I had just covered the Celtics' 109-96 victory over the Lakers.
Boston had a dominant final six minutes that made the game look much more one-sided than it actually was and I wondered why wouldn't a team aggressively use a 'Hack-A-Rondo' strategy as a desperation ploy to change the tempo and force a 51.6% free throw shooter to maintain a sizable lead from a place where they aren't completely comfortable. The Celtics scored 125 points per 100 possessions in the game, so the Lakers had little other recourse in those final minutes.
Rondo had 15 assists in the second half of that game, setting up great looks for Paul Pierce (32 points), Ray Allen (21 points) and Kevin Garnett (18 points), but did not make a single appearance to the line. In 14 other games this season, 38% of them, Rondo has not touched the stripe at all.
The Celtics, however, are 8-1 this season when Rondo attempts at least four free throws, which supports Enchilada's argument on the importance of his aggressiveness in dribble penetration.
In regards to the Hack-a-Rondo strategy, the important question is whether or not Rondo is a reliable free throw shooter. I believe the 51.6% in 10-11 is a subtle aberration coming from his sample size being reduced in half.
But he is a career 62.3% shooter at the line, which means teams would be prudent to have far greater respect for his shooting from the floor (over 50% since the 07-08 All-Star break) than they do for his free throw shooting. Even if teams are unwilling to use the Hack-a-Rondo when playing from behind, liberally using fouls when Rondo penetrates is a relative easy tactic to decide upon and execute.
Perhaps from the Lakers' perspective, Rondo was coming off a 5-for-6 night at the line at Phoenix two days before their meeting. But letting Rondo deliver nine total assists in the fourth quarter and four of them in the final six minutes when it was still within reach certainly didn't give the Lakers a very good chance at a comeback.