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To basketball fans, free throws are universally dreadful.
Unless the preceding whistle is blown late in the fourth quarter, the act consistently provokes half-hearted reactions from spectators painted with indifference.
Late-game situations often dictate the validity of earlier precedents that once warranted them. Even the referees aren't blind to the anti-climactic disappointment that free throws can impose.
Every second that players gradually compose themselves at the top of the key, basketball slowly punctures itself with baseball's eternally embedded thorn: patience.
Although free throws' disciplinary roots ultimately punish the fans as much as the offenders, they're rewarding for teams that value them. In Oklahoma City's previous series, the sole victory for the Lakers was attributed to a 41-of-42 stripe-shooting clinic.
While LA's masterful charity-line performance allowed for breathing room, the leash it loosened can adversely be tightened into a fateful noose.
Ask three-time MVP LeBron James—No. 6's late-game free-throw woes commonly tarnish the golden boy's legacy. Miami's current series may have already been sealed if LeBron knocked down two last-minute shots from the line in Game 2. Instead, "King James" missed the window of opportunity and inaccurately threw his two bricks at the rim.
His teammate, Mario Chalmers, owns an NCAA championship ring after swishing a game-tying three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left on the clock. However, the opportunity was only presented after the Derrick Rose-led Memphis Tigers collapsed at the foul line in the home stretch.
Collectively, the San Antonio Spurs shot .756-percent (ranked 19th in the NBA) from the stripe this season.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, finished first in the league by draining .806 percent of its opportunities. The Thunder also drew 317 more attempts than Greg Popovich's squad.
A free throw is a double-edged sword that often ends with a dull point. More times than not, it cuts Oklahoma City slack. On the other side, if San Antonio is careless, it can ultimately decapitate the Spurs' three-headed monster.