Defending Harden is a chess match worth watching

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City swingman Andre Roberson often was praised by his coach and teammates for playing suffocating defense on James Harden during their first-round playoff series.

Houston's MVP candidate still averaged 33.2 points against the Thunder in the five-game series.

Harden's versatility is a nightmare for top perimeter defenders in the league. Crowd him, and he goes by them. Play off him to cut off driving lanes, and he'll often raise up and shoot a 3-pointer.

Then there is Harden's knack for drawing contact and getting to the free throw line — he averaged 15 foul shots per game against the Thunder.

"I think that's one of the hardest things, and I think he's tough to guard, but ... I'm going to just hold back," Roberson said of guarding Harden without fouling him.

So that's how teams try to defend Harden — carefully.

The Spurs kept Harden off the line Wednesday night in Game 2 of their second-round series with the Rockets, limiting him to six attempts. Harden struggled from the floor, shooting just 3-for-17, yet he had 10 assists and seven rebounds.

When one aspect of his offensive game goes south, he always has another option. He's 6-foot-5 with strength and quickness to create mismatches. He was third in the league in made 3-pointers during the regular season. He shot and made more free throws than anyone else in the league this season, and he hit 85 percent.

Harden also led the league in assists.

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© 2017 Associated Press


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