By Steve Czaban Special to Published Apr 30, 2008 at 5:25 AM

The tactic seems about as bush league as you could get.

As soon as Shaquille O'Neal sets up camp on offense in the paint, go ahead, bear hug him, and send him to the line.

Over and over and over again.

The Spurs had no qualms, and no shame. "Go ahead, big boy. Show us you can make ‘em."

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. It was the first quarter of the game!

The tactic worked, making O'Neal misfire badly on his free throw attempts. He also committed three violations as his massive size 22 sneakers lurched awkwardly over the line prematurely.

How could a proud championship team like the Spurs, led by class act Tim Duncan, resort to such low-rent gimmickry while leading the best-of-seven series, 2-0?

Because it works. And guess what? The Spurs are playing for keeps. There is another ring on the line here, and they want it.

Good for them.

For the first time in Shaq's career, he actually admitted during this series that his free throws were his "Achilles heel." For years, the Big Aristotle mused that he would "make them when they count."

Uh huh.

That's what John Calipari said, too. Ask him how that worked out.

To the average slug sitting on his couch, the ability of a simple, unguarded 15-foot shot to confound pro players remains a mystery.

Um, wouldn't simply practicing it more make you steadily better from year to year? I guess not. Shaq's free throw percentage is right at 50 percent again this year, which is where it has lived for all of his 16 seasons as a pro.

Shaq has given many reasons over the years for his horrid free throw shooting. The most colorful one: he fell out of a tree as a kid, breaking both wrists, and over the years they have permanently fused in position that makes free throws damn near impossible.

Hey, that's his story. He's sticking to it.

If Shaq could just put aside his pride, he might get Rick Barry to come to his mansion and teach him the infamous underhanded, through-the-legs scoop.

Barry was a deadeye shooter at the line, a career 90 percent threat. That's career! Not just his one hottest year. Yet he looked like a flimsy-armed schoolgirl with that motion. Did he care? No. Barry was as shameless as the Spurs when it came to winning.

According to his official profile....

He played the game with a look of mild disdain (sometimes not so mild) that suggested his surroundings were beneath him. Teammate Clifford Ray diplomatically told Sports Illustrated, "Rick may not be the kind of guy to say please, but he's in it to win."

And so are the Spurs.

Given a chance to bog down the Suns' desire to run and flow with constant fouls, and knowing that your penalty is nothing worse than a statistical coin flip, why not employ Hack-A-Shaq?

Last year, the Spurs showed their nasty side against the Suns by laying out Steve Nash with a hip-check. The Suns lost their cool, played the martyr role when Amare Stoudamire served a one game suspension and ultimately were brushed aside.

My respect for the Spurs continues to grow. They have a gangster's mentality to winning. Nothing personal. Just business. And they'll do whatever it takes, even if you think it is somehow undignified in a basketball sense.

The big gamble by Steve Kerr and the Suns has come up crap-seven, clear the line. And once again, the San Antonio Spurs will have the largest say in the West about who gets to play for the Larry O'Brien trophy.



Steve Czaban Special to

Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.

A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.