In the end, it came down to two players in the Moda Center Saturday night who could possibly be traded for one another.
With James Harden asking for a trade out of Houston and the Trail Blazers on his list of acceptable teams, a player who would seem to have to be included in such a deal would be Portland’s CJ McCollum.
And they went toe-to-toe, with each scoring 44 points in Portland’s 128-126 overtime win over the Rockets. McCollum, though, had the last word, hitting what proved to be the game-winning three-pointer off a pass from Damian Lillard with 6.9 seconds left in overtime.
Harden, as you knew he would, had the ball in his hands for a final play, but the Trail Blazers forced him into the lane, where he tried to make a pass to an open teammate in a corner but the pass was knocked down by Robert Covington and recovered by Portland.
McCollum had 31 of his 44 after halftime. And don’t think he didn’t understand the ramifications of a Portland-Houston deal for Harden — if that trade is made, it would almost be a sure thing that he would have to be included, for salary and position purposes.
“James opened up his list of more teams. What am I supposed to think? I play the same position as James,” McCollum said. “If there’s a trade for James, who’s gonna be in the trade?”
So did the whole thing provide extra motivation for him in this game?
“I don’t need to psych myself up to go play against one of the best players in the world,” he said. “James is really good, regardless of what James does in his spare time.
“James is really (bleeping) good at basketball, like he’s really good… You know what I mean, like you know you need to be ready to play. Regardless of circumstances.
“He’s good. He’s a good player and I think I’m a good player as well. I don’t need any extra motivation. My motivation is the struggle that I went through to get to this point.”
Don’t think Harden didn’t have a monster night. He picked the Trail Blazer defense apart from the top circle down the stretch and finished with 17 assists — and it could have been more if some of his overmatched teammates had been able to hit open three-point shots.
The Rockets made 30 of 46 in the paint but hit only 11 of 35 from three while the Trail Blazers were making 19 of 45.
And with Harden bearing down on your defense with the clock ticking down and the game on the line, it can look like Mission Impossible.
“Well, we knew that it would be in his hands,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “There was six seconds of playing time to do whatever he wanted, but obviously, we knew that the three was the only thing that could beat us,
“We wanted to push him up, hopefully get him inside the three-point line. But it gets a little dicey with drives in the lane and kicking it out to open shooters.
“So, I mean, look, he beat us with threes, he beat us getting to the line and he beat us getting in the lane and kicking it out for threes.
“I mean, it was it was a dangerous proposition.”
Very dangerous. But the Trail Blazers survived and posted their first win of the season before heading out for games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers and then twice against the Golden State Warriors.
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