The sound of the ball bouncing on the hardwood floor as players call out defensive rotations could mean only one thing — Houston Rockets basketball is back. After 145 days, the Rockets resumed their 2020 season in a 153-149 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, inside The Arena in Orlando.
After a dispute on whether or not James Harden deserved two foul shots or three, the former league MVP stood at the charity stripe where he knocked down his first attempt with 3.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
On his second, Harden missed his next attempt, but Robert Covington was there for the game-saving tip-in. Covington’s basket knotted the game at 139 as the game headed to overtime. The Rockets would go on to outscore the Mavericks 14-10 in during the extra period to seal the deal.
“I told P.J. exactly what to do. I’ve worked on that play numerous times with different teams that I’ve been on. James missed it perfectly. Normally you miss it to the right, but it just so happened that it rimmed out and it went around. It’s a designed play. Philly did it before against Miami, so that’s kind of where it started and where I got it from.” — Covington
Harden was back in his bag of tricks early. While starting the game a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, 2-for-2 from deep, he erupted for 23 first-quarter points in a little over nine minutes. He would finish the night with a game-high 49 points shooting an efficient 14-for-20 from the field, to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists in the win.
On his 23rd point of the night, Harden (17,928) made history by surprising Hall-of-Famer Calvin Murphy (17,949) for second on the Rockets’ all-time scoring list — trailing only Hakeem Olajuwon (26,511) for first.
The Rockets held a 37-31 lead late in the first quarter when P.J. Tucker made a substitution for Harden. With the former MVP on the bench, the Mavericks outscored Houston 22-11, as Dallas took a lead they would not relinquish until they reach overtime.
Houston had a difficult time trying to slow down Dallas from behind the arc, as the Mavericks shot 55.0% from 3-point range in the first half. Trey Burke, who ended the game with 28 points and six assists, connected on all five of his 3-point field goals for 19 first-half points.
Despite a slow start, Russell Westbrook came up big down the stretch. He posted a double-double of 31 points (13-30 FG), 11 rebounds and eight assists. Houston’s all-star backcourt scored a combined 80 points.
“I think a win like this is this huge for us. It shows that we have fight, and it shows that we can close games — which is something that is important for the playoffs.” — Westbrook
Starting for the injured Eric Gordon, Danuel House Jr added in 20 points, while Ben McLemore recorded 13 points off the bench before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
For Dallas, Kristaps Porzingis led the Mavericks in scoring with 39 points (13-26 FG, 3-8 3PT), while his all-star mate Luka Doncic posted 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the loss.
Up next, the Rockets will return to action on Sunday, against the league’s best 54-12 Milwaukee Bucks. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT.