The Houston Rockets are the hottest team in the NBA right now (depending on who you ask). They’ve won 15 straight, and in the process, James Harden has all but solidified his MVP candidacy. But each win gets more difficult than the last, especially this time of year when teams across both conferences are fighting for precious playoff positioning.
So, unsurprisingly, it was a dogfight on Saturday night against the visiting Celtics, who nearly ended their streak before a late Rockets run that sealed the 123-120 victory.
After the game, Marcus Smart, who had the unenviable task of guarding Harden for much of the game, talked about the difficulty of guarding a player who is both highly-adept at drawing fouls and, in Smart’s mind, the beneficiary of favorable calls by officiating crews who reward him for his superstar status.
Via Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:
“When you’re playing a guy like that who gets those types of calls, it’s pretty much like you’re playing in foul trouble,” Smart told the Globe after the game. “You’ve got to play really certain. You have to be really solid. You can’t really play the defense that you want, because you know nine times out of 10 he’s going to get those calls. It doesn’t matter whether your hands are up or not. He still gets them. We saw that here tonight a few times, and we’ve seen that every other game. He has a way of using his hands, grabbing us, pulling us into him and drawing those fouls. He’s been doing it for a long time. He gets the benefit of the doubt.”
“It happens all around the league,” Smart said. “You get certain players who get calls that other guys just wouldn’t get. We all know the rule. We all understand it. Superstars are going to be superstars. We get it. It is what it is. We’ve just got to play.”
It bears mentioning that nothing during that game was out of the ordinary. Harden got to the line 13 times, while Smart, to his credit, picked up just three personal fouls in the process. The league, however, wasn’t too happy about that criticism once they got wind of it, and on Tuesday, they handed down a $15,000 fine, as is standard operating procedure.
Superstar treatment is the NBA’s best-known secret, and Harden’s particular adroitness for baiting defenders into fouls has become legendary over the years, to the point that the league itself implemented a new rule this season designed to cut down on a specific type of foul he regularly draws that just about everyone agreed was unfair.
There was definitely some truth to what Smart says, but any time you speak out on officiating in anything that could be perceived in a negative light, a fine is almost assuredly going to come your way.