Three things to know: Harden fined, Rockets/Thunder postponed, we’re not in the bubble anymore
1) Number of days without an NBA game postponement: 1 0
Russell Westbrook’s complaints about a lack of accountability in the Rockets’ organization seem almost prophetic now.
How bad were things for the Houston Rockets Wednesday? James Harden — in the middle of an increasingly ugly attempt to force a trade out of Houston — was fined $50,000 by the NBA for violating league coronavirus protocols by going to a party without a mask (Harden says it was not at a strip club).
And that was not the worst thing that happened to Houston on Wednesday.
The Rockets opening night game against the Thunder had to be postponed because four Rockets reportedly went to an area apartment to get haircuts together.
Kenyon Martin Jr., one of those who went, tested positive for the coronavirus and is officially listed on the Houston injury report as “Not With Team — Self Isolating.” The other three who reportedly went for a haircut — John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jae’Sean Tate — were sent home due to contract tracing. Throw in Ben McLemore having already tested positive, Harden not being allowed to play following his party adventure, another unnamed player being held out due to an inconclusive test, and one player actually being injured (Chris Clemons), and the Rockets didn’t have the minimum eight available players to play a game.
Their first game. The season opener. The league went an entire one day without a postponed game.
This is what the NBA signed up for not heading back into a bubble to play this season. The league and players union made a calculation and chose to play in largely empty arenas with travel between cities. Postponed games are part of the price. The league expected postponements — and a group getting a haircut together is how this virus will spread through a team. A simple, seemingly harmless, even team-bonding event can cancel an NBA game. Welcome to 2020.
This is just the first game postponed. There will be more.
As for Harden, he will not change his ways at this point — especially not while trying to force his way out of Houston. He reportedly tested negative every day this week, and he already had the disease during the offseason. As for that $50,000 fine, it sounds like a lot but amounts to about .001% of his salary. That’s not changing his behavior. Harden is not being suspended for his actions, so he’s not going to miss a game’s worth of his paycheck ($284,000 under the CBA fine system). Maybe that would have got his attention, but maybe not.
It’s been a wild season in Houston and they haven’t even played a game yet.
2) Jayson Tatum for Boston, Buddy Hield for Sacramento make game-winning plays, and we have videos
There were a couple of dramatic endings in the NBA on Wednesday night.
It’s a make or miss league, and Boston made the big ones on Wednesday while Milwaukee didn’t. Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum drained game-winning, I’m-sure-he-called-glass three over Giannis Antetokounmpo that proved to be the game-winner. Tatum loves the step-back to the left shot, it’s a go-to move, but from three over the arm of Antetokounmpo is not a high-percentage look. Tatum got it to fall.
After a foul by Tristan Thompson on the other end, Antetokounmpo got the chance to tie the game with two free throws. He’s a career 72% free throw shooter, but he missed the second one. Boston won 122-121. Play that ending out 100 times and Tatum either misses that three or Antetokounmpo makes that free throw at least 75% of the time. But on Wednesday night, Boston was the one making the shots.
In Denver, the Nuggets had the game in hand. Denver was up two with 12 seconds left in overtime and they had the ball — the Nuggets win percentage was 93.9%. All they had to do was run out the clock, but Will Barton decided to go for the game-sealing layup rather than dribble it out and force the Kings to foul. Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox made a game-saving block, Harrison Barnes got the ball going the other way and drove to the rim to tie the game.
The Nuggets still had a chance to win, they tried to get the ball to Nikola Jokic, but Barnes stole the ball and drove to hit his own game-winning layup, but Barton came flying in to block that shot — and there was Buddy Hield for the game-winning tip-in.
Rough way to start the season for a Nuggets team with lofty goals this season.
3) Karl-Anthony Towns speaks emotionally about his mother, basketball after opening night win
The NBA’s official record will show Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead his Minnesota team to a season-opening win over Detroit Wednesday.
That will not begin to tell the real story. Towns lost his mother to COVID-19 in April and after Wednesday’s game talked openly about the emotion of that and returning to play, via Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic.
“You know what, I don’t even recognize most of my other games and years I’ve played and how I felt those days. If I can be honest with ya’ll for a second, I mean, I don’t really recall or really care. I only understand what happened from April 13th on. Because you may see me smiling and stuff, but that Karl died on April 13. He’s never coming back I don’t remember that man. You’re talking to the physical me, but my soul has been killed off a long ago.…
“I’m very fortunate, like I said on TV. I’ve got my kids my niece and nephew who are back in the house waiting for me. My sister, who has been with me and always been my mom’s favorite. She says she wasn’t, it was me. I think it’s her. That’s just brother and sister.
“I want to answer your question, but that man you’re talking about from April 13 or before. I don’t know him. I don’t recall any part of him.”
Towns is still clearly grieving. I’m not about to play armchair psychologist from 2000 miles away, if playing is his therapy, then all we can do is hope it helps him. But if Towns doesn’t want to play right now, he shouldn’t feel obligated to do so, he should be given the space to grieve in the way that best suits him. Whatever that way is, Towns should know he has a lot of support. There is a nation of basketball fans who want nothing but the best for him.