LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Portland’s CJ McCollum 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 yesterday.
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.
Centre 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 more were listed as unavailable due to “health and safety protocols” after being declared close contacts of those with the virus.
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 violated NBA anti-COVID measures that ban players from attending indoor gatherings of more than 15 people.
He was fined USD50,000, in the latest instalment 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.
But the Trail Blazers responded, 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 timeout, 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 2:15 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.”
It was close in Charlotte, where Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drained a game-winning jump shot with 1.4 seconds left in the Thunder’s 109-107 season-opening win over the Hornets.
Oklahoma City led by 13 with less than two minutes to play and held off a Hornets rally to gain the win.
Miles Bridges scored three three-pointers in the final 25 seconds as the Hornets battled back, knotting the score at 107-107 with 10.3 seconds remaining.
But Gilgeous-Alexander took an inbounds pass and drained a jump shot over Caleb Martin to seal it for the Thunder.
A triple-double from Russell Westbrook and 39 points for Bradley Beal were not enough for the Washington Wizards, who fell 130-120 to the Orlando Magic.