OAKLAND - Throughout his career, Houston Rockets guard James Harden has made a habit of drawing fouls on his opponent.
While a historically gifted scorer, Harden seems to put a higher premium on drawing contact from his defender than scoring conventionally. This season, Harden led the league in free throw attempts for the fifth straight season. The practice has caused a collective sigh among the Warriors, who believe the guard is circumventing the rules to his benefit.
However, entering Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Harden's former teammate Kevin Durant believes Golden State can overcome the reigning MVP's tactics.
"I wouldn't say he has an advantage," Durant said Tuesday morning. "I think everybody, once they get into the lane and they use little tricks to get their shots off. He may bump guys off when he's going to the rim but everybody does that."
Harden's style was effective in Game 1, when he shot 14 free throws, helping the Rockets hang with the Warriors for much of the afternoon. For Golden State, the guard's propensity to draw fouls brings a conundrum for the Warriors' defensive style. If a defender puts both hands up, avoiding contact, Harden will use his strength to create separation. If the Warriors engage in a traditional defensive stand they become susceptible to tying themselves up with the 2018 NBA MVP.
"He has a style of play and it may not be what everybody would like to see but he's been effective," Durant said. "I don't think he's cheating the game. I think he plays within the rules of the game.
Entering Game 2, Houston has its gripes as well.
According to The Athletic, the Rockets counted eight 3-point attempts that should have been called for fouls on closeouts by the Warriors in Game 1. Houston's claims, which have since been disputed by the league, bring up a growing league-wide concern of defenders not giving a player enough airspace when landing.
Durant attributes the interest to a game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Lakers, when, late in the game, Hawks forward Dahntay Jones undercut Lakers guard Kobe Bryant as Bryant came down from a fadeaway jump shot, causing the NBA to enact rules to curtail the practice.
"At that time, nobody thought it was a bad play," Durant said. "They just thought it was solid defense and I just think that's when the conversation started and about let's protect the shooter a little bit so I think guys over the years have gotten used to the rules and trying to adjust and adapt to what's going on."
Game 1 brought immense attention to the league's officiating. Reports circulated that the Rockets blamed referees for costing them the title last season and claimed eight calls weren't called in their favor in Game 1. Coach Steve Kerr simulated Harden's habit of drawing fouls in front of reporters Monday, putting all eyes on the officials entering Game 2 Tuesday evening.
"I think referees aren't going to be perfect all game just like players aren't so I think more so just about the talk and officiating," Durant said. "It should be how great all of these players are on the court and how they bring something different to the table."