Kevin McHale angers Spurs by standing next to Tim Duncan during inbounds play
In our latest installment of “NBA Coaches Behaving Badly,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale angered the Spurs when he stood next to Tim Duncan during an inbounds play, potentially interfering with San Antonio’s ability to score on the final play of the first half.
Houston defeated San Antonio 112-106 at the AT&T Center on Saturday night, but the victory came with a little drama thanks to McHale’s antics. With 4.7 seconds remaining before halftime, Duncan took the ball out in the backcourt near Houston’s bench. Rather than stand behind the play with the rest of the team, McHale elected to stand between Duncan and the midcourt stripe, and Duncan appeared to refuse the ball from the referee in hopes that McHale would move out of his way.
Following a discussion, the 6-foot-10 McHale, who won three titles during his Hall of Fame career with the Celtics, briefly retreated to his bench before deciding to cross over in front of Duncan again despite boos from the home crowd. McHale’s final position was just a step or two away from Duncan, who eventually heaved a pass to Manu Ginobili into the frontcourt to start the play.
Here’s a snapshot look at McHale’s final position relative to Duncan.
Ginobili wound up getting a pretty good look at a mid-range jumper but his shot rimmed off and a follow-up attempt also missed. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Duncan both protested to the referees about McHale’s action, and Popovich was eventually hit with a technical foul. Rockets guard James Harden missed the subsequent free throw, so the protests didn’t wind up costing San Antonio on the scoreboard.
The San Antonio Express-News diligently reported the postgame fallout, noting that McHale was technically within his right to position himself where he did because he was inside the designated coach’s box.
“It’s probably one of those things where I should have gone and sat on the other side,” McHale said.
“I think the referee said, ‘If he hits you, I’ll give [the ball] back to them,’” McHale said. “Timmy came pretty close.”
After the game, Popovich declined to comment about his dust-up with McHale. Duncan passed as well.
McHale’s gamesmanship probably gets swept under the rug if Jason Kidd didn’t make massive waves with his decision to intentionally spill soda on the court during the closing seconds of the Nets’ loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, a move that drew a $50,000 fine from the league office. Instead, the Rockets coach raises another round of questions about what coaches should and shouldn’t be doing in pursuit of a victory.
Even if McHale’s action was technically legal, it falls well beneath the standard we should expect from a seven-time All-Star player and a coach with more than 250 games under his belt. There’s simply no good reason for him to be standing there, even if Duncan was able to complete the pass with a full range of motion. More than 30 years have passed since McHale was the No. 3 pick in the 1980 draft; surely he understands, with the benefit of all that time, that fans of both teams expect to see a good, clean game decided by the players on the court without any influence from coaching booby-traps and sideline hazards. At least some portion of Popovich’s ire must have stemmed from the fact that McHale is better than this nonsense, and McHale’s postgame admission indicates he came to the same conclusion once he had a few minutes to cool down.
From a punishment standpoint, there’s nothing the league can or should do in the short-term in response to this particular sequence. However, the bench behavior issue is an interesting one that could be worth some offseason discussion or a 2014-15 point of emphasis. In-game celebrations seem to get more and more elaborate every year, and some players and coaches like to yell, clap their hands or even stand up when opposing shooters launch three-pointers in front of their bench. Some of that activity — “Bazemoring” and the like — is arguably good for the game’s popularity, while some of the other distractions serve no good purpose and cheapen the experience (even if the total effect is minimal), much like McHale’s stand. A little clarification and attention to what is OK, what isn’t OK, and what’s worth a technical foul when it comes to coach/bench actions could certainly make for an improved product.