ESSAY ON JAMES HARDEN: “The basketball gods will not honor disrespect in that way.”

James Harden is disrespecting the unwritten rules of the game

Calling too many fouls is outlawed by the international brotherhood of hoopers


James Harden is that dude at the gym who ruins the game with too many suspect calls.

We all understand that the Houston Rockets superstar is trying to manipulate NBA rules to dethrone the Golden State dynasty. But Harden also belongs to the brotherhood of hoopers who play for the love of the game. I’m talking about those of us who wake up at 5 a.m. for that Tuesday-and-Thursday-morning run, or rent out the school gym late at night after the kids are in bed. Who keep sneakers and a ball in the car at all times. Who arrive at the playground Saturday morning with at least three homies. Because if we lose, we ain’t getting another next until next week.

In our basketball universe, there are no refs, but there is a set of unwritten rules. And while we admire Harden’s revolutionary skill set, we know that anybody who tried to get those calls around our way might have to knuckle up.

“I’ve played pickup basketball all over the country, and one thing that’s universal is the game typically regulates itself,” said my Saturday morning Pittsburgh partner Kevin Santelli (undersized post player, jumper is cash from 15 feet in, would foul his own moms to stop a layup).

“If you have that dude who’s not taking legit shots, waiting to hook your arm and go up and then call a foul, he might get away with one,” Santelli said. “But if you do that all the time, you better be the toughest dude in the gym. You better be ready to muscle up, because I don’t want to fight you, but it might go there.”

I can hear the Houston fans already: Comparing the Rockets-Warriors series to a YMCA game is like putting Beyoncé in a talent show. Harden is in a different universe from us mere mortals and is therefore subject to a different calculus. Which is true.

However, anyone who plays ball recognized the arguments about Harden and foul calls that dominated the aftermath of Game 1:

We’ve all been part of those arguments, which in competitive moments can feel bigger than life. We’ve been furious and held grudges over foul calls, just like the Rockets and the Warriors. The subjectivity of fouls is one of the common threads lacing Hoop World together.

Hoop World hates it when that dude, who’s already a tough cover, starts calling ticky-tack touches every time you come near him. Or when she misses a clean look on game point, then calls foul after the ball clanks off the rim. Sometimes it really is a foul. But if you call too many, then nobody wants to give you any, and it sucks the fun out of a joyful experience.

“It’s disrespectful to the game,” said Rasheed Brinkley, my Thursday night nemesis in Philadelphia (former overseas pro, slashing guard, would and-1 you to death).

“You could call a foul every time down the court if you chose,” said Brinkley. “I always felt I didn’t need the refs, I’m that good. That’s how my mentors taught me: Go do what you do.”

My man Flyin’ Myron Brown (played a few games for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1991 and then 10 seasons in Europe, still hoops three days a week) said that when he made the league, “you had to get mugged to get a call.”

“They already let Harden travel on his step-back, and now he wants a foul too?” he said. “I feel like the way these NBA guys expect calls today, if they came to the playground, I could give them the business right now.”

Houston Rockets guard James Harden, rear, talks to referee Josh Tiven during the first half of Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Golden State Warriors and the Rockets in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, April 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Yeah, we know how the NBA is officiated. But things are regulated differently in Hoop World. If you kick your legs into somebody and call foul, “It starts with, ‘That call is BS.’ Then it goes to someone mumbling something to being said directly to standing and holding the ball and saying, ‘No, we’re going the other way. I’m not giving you that call,’ ” said Brooks Brown, a pickup warrior from Washington, D.C., and commissioner of the high-level morning run at Gonzaga College High School.

“Then everyone starts chiming in, then someone walks up in someone’s face, and then you’re like, ‘We’re too old for this,’ ” said Brooks (burly point forward, likes to sink game-winners driving to his right).

The way Harden pleads for fouls on jump shots can feel like someone calling offensive fouls in a pickup game: technically allowed, he said, but weak sauce.

“Everybody pretty much understands that gray area,” he said. “I feel like James Harden is in the space where he abuses that, and people think he’s better than that. Like, you can’t be that good and get all these soft calls too. He’s the guy in the pickup game who doesn’t really get it — I’m calling my call even if it messes the game up.”

Harden might not make those kind of calls in his own pickup games. And right now, he’s trying to win his first championship by any means necessary. He needs an edge to compete with the unfair amount of talent stacked up on the Warriors’ side. Hoopers understand that. I’ve reflexively made weak calls at the end of close games — ask my man Brooks why he punted the ball into the bleachers one Tuesday morning.

I also knew that I lost some respect with that call. To get it back, I let the next few fouls slide.

“I think Harden is a great basketball player, but what he ends up doing is counting more on the rules than his skills when it means the most,” said Will Strickland (played pro overseas, once fled gunshots in Brooklyn’s Tilden projects over a game of 21, never passed me the rock in the Goat Park league).

“The basketball gods will not honor disrespect in that way,” Strickland said. “Whether playing on the playground or the highest levels of the game, the rules won’t save you.”

Jesse Washington is a senior writer for The Undefeated. You can find him giving dudes the bizness on a basketball court near you.



McCollum leads Blazers past cold Nuggets, 97-90

Associated Press

DENVER — After giving up 39 points to Damian Lillard in the opener, the Denver Nuggets were determined to make sure Portland’s role players would have to bear the burden of evening up the series.

His teammates were up to the task on a night that Lillard, who came in averaging 34.8 points in the playoffs, was held to 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting.

CJ McCollum led six Trail Blazers in double figures with 20 points in a 97-90 victory at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night that evened their series 1-1.

“It’s very important,” said Enes Kanter, who chipped in 15 points for Portland. “Teams can’t guard him with one man. They were sending double-teams, triple-teams. That’s when I said, `He’s making himself better, but at the same time he’s making everybody else better around him.’ He was passing the ball, really active on defense. He’s been unbelievable, man.”

The series shifts to Portland for Game 3 Friday night, and Lillard’s hoping a return to the Moda Center will help him find his long-range rhythm after he misfired on 14 of 19 3-pointers in Denver.

The Nuggets trimmed a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to 95-90 in the final minute thanks to an astonishing 14 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter and a 19-9 run before Rodney Hood‘s two free throws with 17 seconds left iced it.

“The good news is they had all of those offensive rebounds but they didn’t convert a lot,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They were 8 for 24 on second-chance points. We were fortunate we came away not hurt as badly as we could have been on the offensive boards.”

Nikola Jokic had 16 points and 14 boards but got off to a slow start and wasn’t nearly the take-control force he was in Game 1, when he scored 37 points.

“The last quarter we missed a lot of put-backs, but 23 offensive rebounds is a big number,” Jokic said. “The first half we had open shots but we didn’t make any of those.”

With Jokic taking — and missing — just one shot in the first quarter and scoring six points in the first half, the Nuggets trailed 50-35 at halftime after the franchise’s worst quarter ever at home in the playoffs, one in which they made just 5 of 23 shots and missed all 10 of their 3-pointers.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he admonished his team at halftime, “if you’re not making shots, maybe attack the basket, maybe get to the foul line, maybe get to the rim.”

They started doing that after halftime, but the Blazers answered time after time, getting 15 points from Hood, 11 from Al-Farouq Aminu and 10 from Zach Collins.


Denver sparkplug forward Torrey Craig‘s nose was bloodied after he was knocked down and slammed into teammate Monte Morris‘ foot early in the second quarter. Moments after Craig hobbled off, leaving a trail of blood, Maurice Harkless rolled his right ankle and also left the game.

Harkless didn’t return but Craig came back in the second half.

Jamal Murray spent part of the fourth quarter on the stationary bike trying to loosen up his tight right thigh. He missed 12 of 18 shots.

Craig, whose insertion into the starting lineup turned around the Nuggets’ first-round series against San Antonio, returned with a face mask with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. He immediately grabbed a rebound and his 3-pointer with a minute left in the quarter was Denver’s first since 1:11 of the first quarter.

“I think Torrey Craig is the unsung hero of the game,” Malone said. “He’s got some (guts). He’s got some toughness.”


Jokic pushed Kanter, who slammed into Craig with 43.5 seconds left on a made free throw. Murray took exception to Kanter staring down the fallen Craig and a scuffle ensued at midcourt. The two were assessed a double technical.

Jaylen Brown praises teachers while addressing viral tweet about teacher who said he’d be in jail

(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)


On Sunday we told you the story about a 5-year-old tweet by Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown in which he said a teacher of his predicted he’d be in jail in five years.

He wasn’t, of course. Instead he was playing in another NBA playoff game in his third season in the NBA.

Brown talked about the meaning of that tweet and how he respects teachers who are all working hard through some really tough situations.

Via MassLive:

“I wasn’t trying to draw any attention to myself. I had no idea this would turn out to be what it was,” Brown said before the team’s practice Monday in Milwaukee. “It got a lot of attention. If kids look at it the right way in terms of somebody ever said anything that tried to put them down or shoot their dreams down and motivated them to get where they are, I salute that. But I had no intention of it becoming a thing.”

Here’s the tweet in case you haven’t seen it:

Brown added this about teachers:

“When somebody says something like that, you never really forget it. Something like that you hang onto,” Brown said. “I don’t really want to get into what happened, because I’m going to leave it in the past where it belongs, but it’s true. In Georgia, our education system isn’t the best so I don’t put too much blame on teachers. It is what it is. But one teacher handling 35 kids in one class it’s tough. There’s a lot of teachers who go through stuff and take a lot of crap all day, so who knows what was going through her mind that day when she said that. But I will let it be in the past. I will use it as motivation.”

“Stuff like that adds fuel to the fire, and then when it resurfaces it adds more fuel to the fire,” Brown said. “But it’s in the past. I don’t even look at it as a negative, you know what I mean? Or looking to give it back to the teacher. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself.”

Pretty good stuff there by Brown.


Giannis Antetokounmpo pulled a Steph Curry after hitting a 3-pointer and the Bucks rolled


The Milwaukee Bucks were back to looking like the team with the NBA’s best record Tuesday night as they rolled over the Boston Celtics at home, 123-102, to even the series 1-1.

And their star, Giannis Antetokounmpo was back to his “Greak Freak” ways as he rebounded from a tough Game 1 by finishing with 29 points and 10 rebounds.

It was a game the Bucks desperately needed, because going back to Boston down 0-2 might have been too big a hole to get out of.

But now the series is evened up because of Giannis and the help he got from Khris Middleton (28 points) and Eric Bledsoe (21 points).

Giannis had things rolling throughout and had fun doing the Steph Curry shimmy after hitting this 3-point in the third quarter that gave the Bucks a 16-point lead:

He was also back to getting to the rim:

And doing what he does best:

The game was over by the start of the fourth and now the series begins again as we had back to Boston for Game 3 on Friday night.

Buckle up.



Antetokounmpo powers Bucks past Celtics 123-102 in Game 2

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo attacked the rim, Khris Middleton connected from long range and Eric Bledsoe turned in an effective performance.

The Milwaukee Bucks looked more like themselves in Game 2.

Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 10 rebounds and Middleton made seven of Milwaukee’s franchise playoff-high 20 3-pointers, helping the Bucks even their second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics with a 123-102 victory Tuesday night.

Antetokounmpo, one of the top candidates for NBA MVP, went 7 for 16 from the floor and 13 of 18 at the foul line. It was an important turnaround for Milwaukee after he had 22 points on 7-for-21 shooting in Game 1 on Sunday.

Middleton finished with 28 points. Bledsoe, who was held to six points in the series opener, finished with 21 points and five assists.

The Bucks led by as many as 31 points after a closely played opening half. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series is Friday night in Boston.

“I think that’s more what we’re accustomed to seeing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I liked our spirit, our activity, our competitiveness all up and down the roster. Giannis and Khris and Bled really set a tone.

“We need to capture that, take it to Boston with us and play that way up there.”

Marcus Morris paced Boston with 17 points. Jaylen Brown had 16, and Al Horford finished with 15.

Kyrie Irving, who had 26 points and 11 assists in the Celtics’ 112-90 victory in Game 1, had nine points on 4-of-18 shooting.

“We weren’t very good on either end,” coach Brad Stevens said.


OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 29 points and established an early defensive tone against James Harden, leading the Golden State Warriors past the Houston Rockets 115-109 on Tuesday night for a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.

Harden got hit in both eyes early but was able to return and finished with 29 points and seven rebounds on a night boos regularly greeted both him and Chris Paul at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Rockets complained after a 104-100 Game 1 defeat that the officials missed foul calls when the Warriors closed out on Houston’s 3-point shooters.

Paul celebrated and cheered when Harden drew a foul on Durant in the closing seconds of the third on a very such play. Harden converted three free throws to pull Houston within 82-75 going into the final 12 minutes.

Harden scored seven straight Houston points during one stretch midway through the fourth, including a 3 at 7:25 that go the Rockets within 92-89. Stephen Curry connected for a key 3 at the 6:31 mark on the way to 20 points.

Klay Thompson scored 21 points and hit consecutive 3-pointers late in the third. Draymond Green had 15 points, 12 rebounds — three on the offensive end over two possessions in the opening quarter — and seven assists.

In Game 1, Paul was automatically ejected with 4.4 seconds left following a second technical and fined $35,000 by the NBA on Monday for making contact with official Josh Tiven.

D’Antoni emphasized the scrutiny of officials “shouldn’t continue.”

Durant’s run of five straight performances scoring at least 30 points was snapped.

But with 201 points over his previous five games, he became the fourth player in NBA history to score 200 or more in such a span — joining LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan.


Green and Nene got tangled up and drew double technicals after Harden’s third free throw at the end of the third.

With his fourth technical of the postseason, Green is three away from an automatic one-game suspension.

Game 3 is Saturday in Houston.