The big storyline heading into Saturday’s game:
The Rockets were short-handed, to put it simply.
But it wasn’t just the James Harden show early despite the depleted roster. (It really was the James Harden show late though).
Entering Saturday's game at Moda Center, the Rockets had nine eligible players to face the Trail Blazers due to injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
They just made the cut.
The NBA requires eight players to be active for a game to be played.
Harden started the game and finished with 44 points and 17 assists in 43 minutes of work following his $50k fine for violating COVID protocols.
It wasn’t until early in the third quarter that the Blazers looked like they had some life in this one after the first few minutes of the contest.
But it took overtime to finish the job.
Portland clawed back in the second half and was able to defeat Houston 128-126 in OT thanks to CJ McCollum's continued midrange and three-ball success. It was fitting that McCollum hit the go-ahead three to win it after already notching a career high eight threes before that final one to end the game.
The turning point for Portland happened just less than three minutes into the third quarter when Derrick Jones Jr. stripped the ball of Harden in the backcourt that led to a DJJ dunk. The Blazers followed that up with forcing Houston to call a timeout after they struggled to get the ball inbounds.
Despite Harden being cleared from COVID-19 protocols, Houston still dealt with others forced to quarantine.
Here’s the full list of inactive Houston players:
· Chris Clemons (right Achilles; surgery)
· DeMarcus Cousins (health and safety protocols)
· Eric Gordon (health and safety protocols)
· Mason Jones (health and safety protocols)
· Kenyon Martin Jr. (Not with team - self isolating)
· Ben McLemore (Not with team - self isolating)
· John Wall (health and safety protocols)
Jusuf Nurkic took advantage of facing a more slender defender in Christian Wood, especially early on. Nurk scored a quick six points to help Portland take a 12-6 lead. He also took advantage on the glass.
After going scoreless in the first half against the Jazz Wednesday, Damian Lillard came out firing versus Houston. In his first stint, he was hitting from deep and finishing at the rim. Lillard scored eight points in the first quarter on 3-of-7 shooting.
CJ McCollum started to heat up in the second half. It was a 3J kind of night.
The Rockets were handling business even with Harden on the bench. Houston went on run after run with Harden resting in the first half. The Rockets were hitting from outside and were getting plenty of dunks and lay-ups.
The lane was wide open for Houston for most of the night.
Plus, the Harden and Christian Wood two-man game had plenty of success against Portland's defense.
At the break, Houston led 68-58 after shooting 57.5 percent. Portland’s second unit, who had plenty of issues on the defensive end during Portland’s preseason games, allowed Houston to grow its lead in the second quarter. It wasn’t until the starters returned that the Blazers were able to dig into the lead.
It was 6’4″rookie forward Jae’Sean Tate who was scoring at will against Portland in the first half. Tate spent last season playing in the NBL for the Sydney Kings, but Saturday he made the most of his NBA minutes.
The Highlight: This is something Trail Blazers fans could watch over and over: Derrick Jones Jr. getting the steal and the jam.
The Stat: CJ McCollum was cooking, especially from three. By the end of the third quarter, he made 6 of his 12 three-point attempts. McCollum finished with 44 points and a career-high nine threes.
Next up: Portland will be on the road for its next four games starting off with a game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The Blazers and Lakers will tip-off at 7:00 p.m. PST on NBCSNW Monday.