James Harden

Harden has no answers for how to play Smart

Harden has no answers for how to play Smart

HOUSTON -- James Harden remembers all too well what happened the last time he and the Houston Rockets faced the Boston Celtics.

It was, and still is, the most epic of comebacks this season for the Celtics. And that’s saying a lot, considering how often Boston has rallied from double-digits deficits for wins.

When these two met a few days after Christmas, Boston rallied from a 26-point deficit and emerged with a 99-98 win.

So when I asked Harden about his biggest takeaway from that game, his response was clear and succinct.

“We had them beat; we had them beat,” he said. “We just have to finish the game off.”

Boston made several plays in the closing minutes, but arguably none bigger than the two offensive fouls Marcus Smart drew against Harden.

With that particular matchup playing such a pivotal role in the game’s outcome, it only made sense for the MVP candidate to have some thoughts on those plays or Smart’s play in general.

So I asked him about Marcus Smart.

“I don’t know,” said Harden, followed by a couple seconds of silence with him then saying, “Next question.”

While Harden was mum on Smart’s play, his coach, Mike D’Antoni, had plenty to say.

“Certain guys have to play with an edge. That’s why they got to the NBA; they play with that edge,” D’Antoni said. “I think that’s great. Marcus has been one of the better [defensive] players in the league. However he plays, he plays with a determination that very few people have in this league. That’s what makes him good.”


Smart's smarts come into play on D

Smart's smarts come into play on D

HOUSTON — Regardless of whether you’re a Celtics fan, we all shake our heads in disbelief at that line Marcus Smart straddles more than any player in the NBA when it comes to discerning between playing good defense or flopping.

Here’s the thing.

Forget about the actual call being made when he draws a charge/flop.

Smart wins the moment he makes those plays and both players and spectators look on, unsure of what just happened.

There’s no more symbolic image of this playing out, than Houston’s James Harden looking dazed and amazed after being called for back-to-back offensive fouls against Smart in the closing moments of Boston’s 99-98 epic comeback win after trailing by 26 in the second half.

At that moment, Smart made the game more about his mental strengths than his physical ones.

“Just get up in him,” Smart said of his late-game strategy in defending Harden. “I know it sounds crazy to say with a guy of his caliber. But when he can get to dancing, feels comfortable, that’s with anybody, it’s tough to guard. When you get up in him you give him one way to go, one option to go... it’s hard.”

Those two game-changing plays by Smart were the fruits that come about when seeds of frustration are planted early.

Sometimes, Smart was aggressive on Harden, other times, not so much. When it mattered most, Harden gambled that using his physical strength against Smart was the way to go.

He was wrong in that moment; at least that’s what the game officials thought.

Let’s face it.

Smart will certainly make his share of bad decisions. None stick out more than him punching a picture frame that led to him missing 11 games (he had one piece of glass lodged in his hand, if it moved another inch or so, he could have been lost for the season) and needing 20 stitches to close the cut.

But it’s rare that he makes a bad decision in close games.

Now, could the execution of those decisions at times use some work?


But the actual late-game choices he makes, by and large, are the right ones, which is why Celtics coach Brad Stevens has him on the floor down the stretch most nights.

Indeed, it is Smart’s smarts - see what I did there - that set him apart from most of the NBA’s top defenders.

And the Houston Rockets, who host Boston on Saturday night, know this as well as any team on the Celtics’ schedule.


Police dispatched to Clippers-Rockets locker-room brawl


Police dispatched to Clippers-Rockets locker-room brawl

The Los Angeles Clippers got the better of the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Staples Center, 113-102, but the battle between Chris Paul and his former team had apparently just begun.

According to multiple reports, members of the Rockets took to the Clippers locker room after the game to confront Austin Rivers and then Blake Griffin.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says that according to his sources, James HardenTrevor Ariza, and Gerald Green entered the Clippers locker room looking for Austin Rivers, who was on the sideline due to an injury. LAPD were then dispatched to the scene — not just ordinary Staples Center security — and that’s somehow not the end of this story.

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