SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert didn’t attempt one free throw in the first three and a half quarters of the Utah Jazz’s 98-89 win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.
The last three and a half minutes were an entirely different story.
The Jazz center was targeted in a Hack-A-Shaq strategy — Foul-A-Frenchie? Grab-A-Gobert? — by the rallying Suns.
It started after rookie guard Devin Booker hit a jumper to pull the Suns within single digits of the Jazz for the first time since the first quarter.
Gobert, a 61.4 percent free-throw shooter this season, probably encouraged Phoenix to continue employing that controversial method by only making one of two foul shots.
The Suns proceeded to intentionally foul Gobert, something the NBA is considering banning, five more times in the next two minutes.
The Jazz weren’t exactly amused. Multiple players said the Suns “mucked up the game” in an effort to trim a one-time 23-point lead down.
This wasn’t the first time an opponent has purposely fouled Gobert, and the Jazz are hoping it will be the last.
“It can go away because we aren’t taking him out,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That was a decision we made a week ago, two weeks ago. If we’re going to be the type of team we want to be and he’s going to be the player he wants to be, he has to shoot them and he’s got to make them.”
Snyder said he’d make Gobert take 1,000 free throws to fine-tune his precision from the line if necessary.
That, Gobert said, won’t be necessary.
“I practice every day,” he said. “I make 10 (straight) easily every day. Again, I’ve just got to think it’s easy.”
Gobert made it seem easy after mixed results in his first few tries. After missing three of his first five free throws late in the game, the Stifle Tower sank seven consecutive freebies to help the Jazz maintain their cushion.
Along with his positive results, the third-year center also had a humorously defiant response in the locker room after the Jazz’s sixth consecutive victory.
“I’m just thankful. It gives me points,” Gobert said. “I was happy. I like it.”
Just last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today that the league will explore changes to the rules this upcoming offseason to deter teams from fouling subpar free-throw shooters on purpose.
“Even for those who had not wanted to make the change, we’re being forced to that position just based on these sophisticated coaches understandably using every tactic available to them," Silver said. "It’s just not the way we want to see the game played."
According to USA Today, the hacking method is way up this year. In December, teams had already surpassed the number of intentional fouls that happened last season (164). The guesstimate is that the number will be around 300 by the time the NBA reaches its All-Star break this weekend.
"Clearly that’s not a natural basketball move," Silver told USA Today. “That’s something that, in my view, we need to address quickly because ultimately there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our players. Again, I think that’s an accident waiting to happen with guys jumping on each other’s shoulders just trying to attract officials’ attention to call a foul."
The Jazz, who put their winning streak on the line in Dallas on Tuesday, were relieved that no harm came with the fouls on Saturday.
“They didn’t hurt me,” Gobert said. “They just fouled me and sent me to the line to get easy points.”
Gobert’s teammates were impressed with how he responded to what some might consider an insult. (The Jazz center was too proud/defiant to admit that, if he was bothered by it.)
“It kind of mucked up the game,” said Jazz guard Rodney Hood, who scored 25 points. “We had a rhythm going and we were getting some buckets and they started fouling and Rudy hit his free throws, but it made us a little sluggish on our defense. It’s a rule that people do and we have to adjust to it. We did a great job.”
Gordon Hayward agreed.
“It’s a controversial topic, for sure. It definitely slows the game up. It kind of takes the energy out of it,” he said. “It’s part of the game right now. It’s what the rules say you can do and allows that.
“I’m happy that Rudy was able to step up and knock them down for sure. I’m sure they’ll take a look at it.”