Houston's Larry Smith had made only 10 of 39 free throw attempts this season and that made him a prime foul target in an aggressive Golden State Warriors' strategy.
The tactic worked. Smith missed six straight free throws in the fourth quarter and the Warriors made all 33 they attempted in a 111-99 victory over the Rockets on Thursday night."I just played terrible, man," Smith said. "I felt our losing tonight was my fault. If I'm going to play in the playoffs, I've got to bounce back and play better."
Warriors coach Don Nelson said he has used the strategy twice in his career.
"We thought it would break their momentum," Nelson said. "I've been thinking about it a long time, and tonight, I thought I could help us win by coaching."
But Houston coach Don Chaney said the tactic alone didn't beat his team.
"Larry's free throws may have mattered if everybody else had done well from the line," Chaney said. "But it didn't really win the game for them. It sealed the lead they had. They beat us outright."
Houston trailed just 86-82 with 7:57 remaining before the assault on Smith began. After Tim Hardaway's two free throws put the Warriors up 88-82, Nelson sent reserve center Paul Mokeski and reserve guard Vince Askew into the game to carry out the plan.
After Smith missed two free throws, Chris Mullin came back to bury a 3-point shot. Two more Smith misses led to another Mullin jumper, and the Warriors were ahead 93-82 with 6:40 to play. Smith missed two more and was finally taken out of the game for good. The Rockets never got closer than seven points the rest of the game.
Smith's teammates tried to console him.
"They singled him out," Sleepy Floyd said. "Larry played a lot of years here (at Golden State), and he was back home, and they singled him out. He has a lot of pride. He won't let that happen again."
"I think he (Nelson) tried to embarrass Larry," Vernon Maxwell said.
The Warriors were perfect from the line for the first time since Feb. 12, 1980, when they were 14-for-14 at Chicago. The NBA team record for most free throws in a game without a miss is 39, by Utah at Portland on Dec. 7, 1982. Boston made 35 without a miss at Miami on April 12, 1990 and again vs. New Jersey on March 18, 1990.
Smith's 0-for-6 is the most attempts without a make since Dec. 13, 1988, when Jerome Lane of Denver went 0-for-7 against Houston.
The Rockets, who made only 18 of 34 free throws (52.9 percent), fell two games behind Midwest Division leader San Antonio with six games to play. Golden State moved a full game ahead of Seattle in the race for the seventh Western Conference playoff spot.
Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon led all rebounders with 12 and scorers with 28 points, including 21 points in the second half, while Floyd scored 25 for the Rockets. Mullin scored 26 points, Hardaway finished with 24 and Mitch Richmond 23 for Golden State.
The Rockets made only seven of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter. They played without guard Kenny Smith, whose left ankle injury has him out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis.