Spurs intentionally send Josh Smith to free throw line a career-high 26 times

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Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich may have provided teams with a blueprint for slowing down MVP candidate James Harden, though it’s one that’s anything but aesthetically pleasing.

San Antonio used the legal but ugly intentional fouling strategy extensively during Friday night’s win over the Rockets, the team’s 10th straight.

And it sent Josh Smith to the free throw line a career-high 26 times.

From the Associated Press:

Popovich was pleased with the way his Hack-A-Smith routine changed the game.

“Absolutely, I’d trade it any day rather than have James Harden with the basketball,” Popovich said. “That’s kind of scary. …

Harden, who entered the game leading the NBA in scoring, was kept well below his 27.6 average, with San Antonio intentionally fouling Smith 12 times in the second half. Smith went 12 of 26 from the line and led the Rockets with 20 points.

Smith is shooting just 51.2 percent from the free throw line on the season, so Popovich was simply playing the odds, just as he’s done for many years. Though he’s admitted to hating the strategy as recently as last season.

“I hate it,” Popovich said. “I think it’s awful. I hate doing it. Seriously. I think it’s a pain in the neck, fans don’t like it, I don’t like it, nobody likes it. It disrupts the flow of the game. If there’s an equitable way to get rid of it, I’m all for it.

“But it’s part of the game. It’s part of the rules now and if you think somebody can’t shoot a free throw you might as well take advantage of it. If you think somebody can’t shoot you don’t guard him the same way. So [the strategy’s] fair, it’s just kind of ugly I think.”

The loss temporarily dropped the Rockets to sixth place in the Western Conference standings, which, as of today, would mean a first round playoff matchup against these same Spurs — and presumably, plenty more free throw attempts for Josh Smith.