Kevin Durant has weighed in on the NBA’s marquee playoff series that’s become more about officiating than the action on the court after Game 1.
He doesn’t think James Harden is a cheater.
Durant told reporters at shootaround prior to Tuesday’s Game 2 that Harden uses tricks but doesn’t cheat the game.
Durant: Harden doesn’t have an advantage
"I wouldn't say that he has an advantage," Durant said. "I think everybody, once they get into the lane, they use little tricks to try to get their shots off. I don't think he's any different.
"He may bump guys off going to the rim, but everybody does that. I wouldn't say that he's found a way to cheat the rules. I wouldn't say that. I just think that he has his style of play. It might not be what everybody might like to see, but it's been effective. And I don't think he's been cheating the game at all.”
Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets was marred by controversy over a lack of foul calls on contested jumpers that involved contact, much of it involving Harden.
Harden’s controversial style
Harden has used a strategy of flailing his legs forward on jump shots to initiate contact and draw foul calls that’s been successful through much of his career. It didn’t work Sunday when officials consistently declined to call fouls when defenders and shooters landed in the same space.
In situations where the defender jumps into the shooter’s space, it presents an obvious foul call with player safety in mind. It’s an issue that was brought to the forefront in a 2017 playoff series between the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs that saw Kawhi Leonard suffer an ankle injury when Zaza Pachulia landed under his feet while contesting a jump shot.
Harden has regularly taken advantage of the emphasis on that call in an attempt to get to the free-throw line. It’s a strategy that’s raised questions about whether Harden’s tactics are legal.
Durant: ‘S--- happens’
"I don't think he does that," Durant said of Harden breaking rules. "I think he plays inside the game, plays within the rules of the game.
“S--- happens. I think referees aren't going to be perfect all game — just like players aren't — so I think more so than just the talk of calls or officiating, it should be about how great all of these players are on the court. How they uniquely bring something different to the table. It's been a fun last couple of days."
Rules encourage Harden’s style
Durant has a point. Until the rule book explicitly forbids players from using Harden’s tactics, it’s going to continue to be an issue. Even then, it likely would.
But there’s little deterrent for a player like Harden who’s elevated his game to an MVP-level in part by deceiving officials and drawing trips to the free-throw line within the written rules of the game.
It’s doesn’t make for an aesthetically pleasing form of basketball. But it does make for a highly effective and efficient brand of the game.
And until there’s a deterrent in place for Harden to stop, there’s no reason that he should.
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