Saturday, Dec. 26: Blazers 128, Rockets 126, OT
The skinny: It was an intriguing subplot to the Houston-Portland game Saturday at the Moda Center — James Harden versus CJ McCollum, and a trade rumor.
A trade involving the two teams might include McCollum, as Harden has reportedly named Portland as one of his preferred destinations. Doesn't mean it'll happen, and McCollum sure made his point about being his own brand of prolific scorer.
The two guards made quite an impact before an empty Moda Center. McCollum scored 44 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left in overtime, as Portland beat Houston 128-126 for its first win.
The reigning NBA scoring champ Harden also had 44 points, but his turnover on a drive and a dish — a steal by Robert Covington — ended the Rockets' first game in the closing seconds. He had 17 assists.
The Rockets had used a late spurt, capped by a Harden layup, to tie the game in regulation. Damian Lillard, who rebounded from a nine-point game in an opening loss to Utah with 32 points, missed a shot at the end of the regulation.
Harden had a couple step-back 3-pointers to put Houston ahead in overtime, including 126-125 with 15.3 seconds left. After a timeout, the Blazers found McCollum, who set his personal high with his ninth 3-pointer of the game.
Then, Harden couldn't make the one final play for the win.
"We knew it would be in his hands," coach Terry Stotts said. "There was six seconds of playing time to do whatever he wanted. ... It was a dangerous proposition."
The Blazers trailed by 16 points in the first half, as their poor defense continued. The Rockets shot .585 in the first half and led 68-58.
They finally took the lead, 75-74, on McCollum's 3-pointer that ended a 17-2 run midway through the third quarter.
From there, it was a tight game, although Portland led 111-105 on Lillard's layup with 2:23 left. Houston rallied, though, to force overtime.
Of his duel with Harden, McCollum said: "He's a good player and I think I'm a good player as well. I don't need any extra motivation."
McCollum reacts: How does McCollum see the news of Harden considering the Blazers among his landing spots? Well, he plays the same position as Harden. "If there's a trade for James, who's gonna be in the trade?" he said.
The stats: McCollum went 17 of 30 from the field (9-of-16 3-pointers), and had eight assists, and Lillard went 11 of 28 from the field and made five 3-pointers, and added nine assists. Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter, the two posts, added a combined 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 20 rebounds.
Harden went 12 of 22 from the field, hitting six 3-pointers and 14 of 16 free throws. Big man Christian Wood had 31 points and 13 rebounds.
The asterisk: The Rockets played without some players, including point guard John Wall, post DeMarcus Cousins, sixth man Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore, because of COVID-19 protocol.
Key stat: The Blazers recovered from giving up 68 first-half points to play their best stretch of defense in the third quarter.
The Rockets went 5 of 20 from the field in the quarter and scored only 17 points.
The Rockets did finish the game at .511 from the field.
"We needed to have a quarter like that," Stotts said. "We needed to buckle down."
Bad stat: Including preseason, the Blazers have given up 121, 126, 129, 120 and 126 points in the past five games.
Next up: It was a badly needed win, as the Blazers head out for a four-game road trip. It starts 7 p.m. Monday at Los Angeles Lakers, followed by Dec. 30 at Los Angeles Clippers and Jan. 1 and 3 at Golden State Warriors.
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