Sweat dripping, arms getting heavy, Erick Dampier lined up yet another free throw. Feet set, eyes on the rim, he flicked the ball toward the rim for the 150th and final time Monday.
He walked away with make No. 140.
Sure, this was only practice, the seats empty and the scoreboard off. Still, it's an indication that Dampier will be ready if the San Antonio Spurs again decide their best defense against the Dallas Mavericks is sending the big guy to the foul line.
"I think it's great," Dampier said. "I think they should do it again."
On Sunday night, in Game 1 of their first-round series, San Antonio was so frustrated trying to stop Dirk Nowitzki that late in the third quarter Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent in Roger Mason with orders to foul Dampier as soon as possible.
Three seconds later, he did -- before Dallas even crossed midcourt.
Dampier had badly missed a pair of free throws earlier in the quarter and missed the second of these. So the next time the Mavs had the ball, Mason whacked Dampier again. Again, he made the first, missed the second.
Five seconds into Dallas' next possession, Mason made sure the whistle blew again.
Fans finally figured out what was going on and began to boo. Then Dampier made both free throws and they broke into cheers. The shots put the Mavs up by six, two more than when this ploy began. Dallas ended up winning by six, as well.
"We knew exactly what they were doing after they did it a couple of times in a row," Dampier said. "So it was just up to me to step up, and I stepped to the line and knocked them down. I've just got to be ready to make those free throws."
Dampier finished the night 5 of 12 from the line, so he figured his stroke needed some refining before Game 2 Wednesday night. That's why he spent most of the Dallas' light workout Monday at the foul line, with the team's free-throw coach, Gary Boren, nearby.
"I normally shoot free throws a lot better than what I shot last night," said Dampier, who made 60.5 percent of his free throws this season and 62.7 percent over his 14-year career. "Good thing about it is there's always a second night. I'll get another chance to knock them down."
Popovich is a disciple of former Mavs coach Don Nelson, who introduced the Hack-a-Shaq strategy of fouling Shaquille O'Neal instead of letting him throw down dunk after dunk. The Hack-a-Damp was a bit of twist on that since the point was to get the ball away from Nowitzki on a night when he made 12 of 14 shots and scored 32 of his 36 points through three quarters.
"I was surprised," Nowitzki said. "But I think Pop is just like Nellie. You have to be ready for everything. He doesn't care what anybody thinks or says."
Dampier is likely to remain a pivotal player in this series, and not just for his free throws. It's because as Dallas' starting center, he is the first line of defense against Tim Duncan.
Dampier and Brendan Haywood were praised by coach Rick Carlisle, Nowitzki and the rest of their teammates for how they handled Duncan in the opener.
Dallas' big men limited Duncan to only five free throws and forced him to commit a team-high six turnovers. Then again, he also had a team-best 27 points on 12 of 20 shooting, and grabbed eight rebounds.
"When you make him work hard, take tough shots, put him in different pick-and-rolls, make him fight for position, it just wears him down over the course of the game," Dampier said Monday. "Even though he had 27 points, he had to work for those 27 points. Nothing came easy. That's what this team depends on me and Brendan for. We go out there, we play defense, we block shots."
The Dampier-Haywood combination had 15 points, 18 rebounds and two turnovers. Their 14 free throws matched the entire Spurs' total.
"They both made an impact," Duncan said. "That's what you want from those guys."
Dampier was able to play Duncan tough because he stayed out of foul trouble. Haywood joked that had he been on the court, San Antonio might not have tried fouling him because he'd made both of his foul shots at that point.
Dampier was able to laugh about Popovich's stunt, too, especially since he foiled it.
"I've played the game long enough (to know) you're going to make some, you're going to miss some," Dampier said. "Just try to make more than you miss."