Jerry Stackhouse is suspended for Sunday’s pivotal Game 5 for an intentional hard foul on Shaq. The big problem is that the play made by Stack — deliberately shoving/grabbing airborne Shaq hard to eliminate the chance that Shaq would make the layup — is widely regarded as a legit “basketball play.” I’d say that at least 2/3 of NBA coaches and players share this view.
My view is that it should be considered a non-basketball play and carry sufficient penalty so that no player would ever consider attempting it. The only legit defensive play for Stack in that particular situation would be to try to force a miss without deliberately fouling — for example, by reaching in with the left hand to strip the ball or just cause a bobble, which might be enough to cause a miss; slipping around the backside of the mammoth Shaq to try to make a play on the ball with your right hand; challenging the shot by jumping into vacant space where you might be able to block the shot or force Shaq into an awkward double-clutch.
If the penalty for a deliberate foul was an automatic 3 points, there’d be no deliberate fouls. This would eliminate the 2 or 3 plays per game where someone is put in danger by a hard, intentional foul. Most of those fouls don’t produce injuries, but some do. Injuries are a part of the game, but those particular injuries should NEVER occur. I’ve seen too many postseasons ruined for various players — and thus their teams — because someone on the other team brutally enforced his coach’s “No layups!” edict. (I mention coaches because, in my view, THEY are the problem. Coaches, not players, set the tone and give the marching orders.)
As for suspensions based on the severity of the intentional foul, my view is that a play like Stack’s should have the following penalties: If committed in the regular season, suspension for 10 regular-season games. If committed in the playoffs, suspension for 20 regular-season games, beginning at the start of the next season. In addition, if the foul causes an injury, the fouler should be similarly incapacitated for however long the foulee is hobbled and/or sidelined.
Applying that logic to Stack, he’d be suspended for the first 20 games of next season, but because Shaq wasn’t hurt, there’d be no playoff suspension. And instead of Shaq having to go to the stripe to, as the saying goes, “earn ‘em at the line,” the scorer would simply add 3 points to the Heat’s total, and possession would revert to the Mavs.
For more of my ideas on humanizing the game so that actual BASKETBALL PLAYS determine who wins and loses, see this essay at DallasBasketball.com.