In the hours and days after both of the Atlanta Hawks decisive losses to Indiana during their first-round series, a lot of talk has surfaced surrounding the foul/free-throw disparity that has occurred. The Pacers have attempted 63 free throws in the two games (making 51 of them), while the Hawks have attempted just 34 free throws (converting 18 of them). On the surface, the casual fan would assume that either a) the fix was in (lol), or b) both sets of officials really don’t enjoy the work of the Atlanta Hawks.
They would be wrong.
For the season, the Indiana Pacers converted 115 more free throws than their opponents, while the Hawks made 75 less free throws than opponents. In addition to those numbers, Atlanta was 27th in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game (19.7) this season, as opposed to Indiana being 8th in the same category (attempting 23.6 free throws per game). On top of that, Atlanta has been without the only guy on their roster who gets to the line consistently (Lou Williams) for half of the year, and since his exit, the numbers have been even more lopsided.
What does this all mean? Well, frankly, the foul shooting disparity is one born out of style of play instead of officiating negligence. Indiana has taken aggressive paths to the rim throughout the series (as they usually do), while Atlanta has settled for jump shots and circus attempts around the rim. To make things worse, Indiana is actually making their free throw attempts (80.9% in the series) while Atlanta scuffles at the line in a major way (52.9%) to make the disparity seem even larger.
Larry Drew can talk about “energy” and “physicality” all he wants to during this series, but the fact remains that Indiana is inherently better in just about every category that rewards those traits (rebounding, drawing fouls, blocked shots, etc.) and that isn’t going to change. On the bright side for Atlanta fans, Drew did manage to play Al Horford 38 minutes, but he replaced him on the bench with Josh Smith (20 minutes) thanks to foul trouble and the Larry Drew treatment. That discussion is for another day, but in the meantime, let’s all take a step back from screaming at the officials and realize that the trends are in Indiana’s favor.