Portland’s CJ McCollum on Saturday drained the game-winning three-pointer with 6.9 seconds left in overtime, as the Trail Blazers edged James Harden and short-handed Houston 128-126 in the Rockets’ belated NBA season opener.
McCollum scored 44 points, with a career-high nine three-pointers, and Damian Lillard added 32 as the Trail Blazers withstood a 44-point, 17-assist performance by Harden.
Center Christian Wood added 31 points for the Rockets, who had just nine players in uniform — one above the NBA minimum of eight — after two players tested positive for COVID-19 and four were listed as unavailable due to “health and safety protocols” after being declared close contacts of those with the virus.
Photo: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY
The Rockets’ scheduled season opener against Oklahoma City had been postponed when they could not field eight players.
Harden was among those unavailable on Wednesday after he was deemed to have breached the NBA’s anti-COVID-19 measures that ban players from attending indoor gatherings of more than 15 people.
He was fined US$50,000, in the latest installment of the pre-season drama surrounding Harden, who turned up late to training camp amid reports he has demanded to be traded.
The three-time — and reigning — NBA scoring champion played more than 43 minutes. He connected on 12 of 22 shots from the field, including six three-pointers.
Harden’s step-back three-pointer with 15.3 seconds left in overtime put the Rockets up 126-125.
The Trail Blazers responded with Lillard driving toward the basket then kicking the ball out to McCollum who calmly sank a three-pointer of his own.
“I just got to the corner,” McCollum said. “I knew [Lillard] was going to be aggressive, he drew a crowd. My man turned his back so I just relocated to the open area and knocked down the trey.”
The Rockets had the ball again after a time-out, but Robert Covington came up with the steal from Harden as he was driving toward the basket.
In Detroit, Cleveland guard Collin Sexton scored 32 points, including a layup to force a second overtime, as the Cavaliers beat the Detroit Pistons 128-119.
Andre Drummond added 23 points against his former team, Cedi Osman scored 22 off the bench and Darius Garland chipped in 21, as the Cavaliers rallied from a nine-point deficit with two minutes, 15 seconds left in the first overtime.
The Pistons appeared to seize control in the third quarter, when Jerami Grant scored 14 of his 28 points. Blake Griffin scored 26 points and Derrick Rose had 13, but the Pistons — with 24 turnovers leading to 31 Cavaliers points — could not hang on for the win.
“It was multiple opportunities where we could’ve given in, there were multiple opportunities that we could’ve lost the fight,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Every player, to a man, decided that was not going to happen.”
In other games on Saturday, it was:
‧ Spurs 119, Raptors 114
‧ Knicks 89, 76ers 109
‧ Kings 106, Suns 103
‧ Jazz 111, Timberwolves 116
‧ Bulls 106, Pacers 125
‧ Hornets 107, Thunder 109
‧ Wizards 120, Magic 130
‧ Grizzlies 112, Hawks 122
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