Yes, Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas always commits free throw violations that aren’t called
Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas had one of the greatest performances in NBA playoff history in Tuesday’s 129-119 win over the Wizards, scoring 29 of his 53 points in the fourth quarter and overtime on his late sister’s 23rd birthday. Thomas shot 18 for 33 from the field and 12 for 13 from the free throw line, where a few sharp-eyed rules sticklers noticed he committed a violation that’s rarely called on almost every one of his attempts.
Thomas, who made 91 percent of his free throws during the regular season, has an unorthodox shooting action at the line. Like most shooters, he transfers his weight from his heels to his toes as he releases the ball. Rather than returning his weight to his heels after he follows through, Thomas remains on his toes and often steps into the lane with his left foot before the ball reaches the cylinder. Here’s a screenshot from Thomas’s game-tying free throw with 14 seconds left in regulation on Tuesday:
This is a violation of Rule 9, Section 1-b of the NBA rule book:
Thomas’s illegal free throw shooting form has been the subject of multiple Reddit threads this season, including one titled, “Why are we ignoring how Isaiah Thomas cheats on every free throw?” Tweets about Thomas stepping over the line, which he does on most, but not all, of his attempts, seem to have increased in frequency during the playoffs.
So what’s the point of having a rule that isn’t enforced, especially one that’s more cut and dried than the countless moving screens and carrying violations that go uncalled during a typical NBA game?
“Sometimes rules are put in for intent purposes,” Steve Javie, who spent 25 years as an NBA referee and now serves an officiating analyst for ESPN, told The Post on Wednesday. “In this case, the rule prevents someone from shooting, on an intentional miss, and running and getting the rebound first. It’s one of these rules where as an official you’re thinking, what advantage did the guy really gain from it? He shoots it from behind the line and his foot steps into the lane. Well, to me, he didn’t gain an advantage. But if he shoots the ball and then runs and grabs the rebound, it’s an obvious advantage.”
Another reason the rule exists is to prevent players from dunking free throws. College basketball introduced a rule in 1956 that prohibited players from having a foot across the free throw line until the ball hit the cylinder or the backboard in response to 7-foot-1 Wilt Chamberlain, who would get a running start, jump behind the free throw line and then slam the ball through the hoop. The 5-foot-9 Thomas isn’t a threat to pull that off.
NBA referees seldom call lane violations on free throw shooters, except in cases where the shooter gains a clear advantage, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented if they decided to crack down on Thomas’s habitual line-stepping.