Until this year, Shaqille O’Neal’s game had several flaws, but his new dedication at the defensive end has left him with only one flaw: the big guy is not a good free throw shooter. And that’s why the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy is a good idea. Critics are decrying what Portland coach Mike Dunleavy did in game one of the Western conference finals, when he stretched out the last five minutes of the game by repeatedly fouling O’Neal, whether he had the ball or not. Yes, it slows the game down. Yes, it’s boring to watch. But Dunleavy’s job is not to entertain us. His job is to win. And sending Shaq to the free throw line over and over again gives his team the best chance to win. And it’s perfectly legal. Shaq is fifty percent free throw shooter. When he goes to the line, the Lakers get one point, and the Blazers have a chance to answer with two or three. It didn’t work in game one, because Portland didn’t score. They didn’t need it in game two, because they had a big lead. But in game three, if Portland is trailing, they will “hack-a-Shaq” again. And they should. It’s smart.
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