Kevin Durant Says James Harden Playing by the Rules, 'Not Cheating the Game'

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistApril 30, 2019

Houston Rockets' James Harden reacts after being called for a foul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

While it's become popular to criticize James Harden for chasing fouls, Kevin Durant doesn't think the reigning NBA MVP is doing anything wrong.

Per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell, Durant said Harden is "not cheating the game" because "he's playing within the rules of the game" and is exploiting the rules to his advantage:

"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 likes to see, but it's been effective. And I don't think he's been cheating the game at all."

Durant also noted the officials "aren't going to be perfect all game" and rather than constant talk of calls or non-calls, focus on "how great all of these players are on the court."

Generating foul calls has been a huge part of Harden's success since he was acquired by the Houston Rockets prior to the 2012-13 season. The seven-time All-Star has averaged 10.2 free-throw attempts per game over the past seven seasons, including a career-high 11.0 in 2018-19.

In November, ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon and Michael C. Wright shared thoughts from players and coaches about Harden's ability to get calls from the officials.

"He flops on offense just like I flop on defense," Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. "He's been in the league a long time, and he's built that reputation. It's hard to guard him knowing that, at any given moment, you can get called for a foul."

Harden and the Rockets were vocal in their criticisms of the referees following their 104-100 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

"I just want a fair chance," Harden told reporters. "We all know what happened a couple years back with Kawhi [Leonard]. Call the game the way it's supposed to be called, and we'll live with the results."

On the play Harden referenced, in Game 1 of the 2016-17 Western Conference Finals, Leonard injured his ankle when Zaza Pachulia appeared to undercut him on a long two-point jumper.

Per the NBA's last-two-minute report, officials were correct in not calling Draymond Green for a foul when he made contact with Harden on a three-point attempt with 10.1 seconds to play in Game 1 on Sunday.

The Rockets and Warriors will return to the court Tuesday for Game 2 with all eyes on the officiating.