Har­den is daz­zling, but then Rap­tors rally past Rock­ets in Ja­pan

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - TIM REYNOLDS

When James Har­den’s night was over, de­fence got eas­ier for the Toronto Rap­tors.

Pas­cal Siakam scored 24 points and grabbed 11 re­bounds as the Rap­tors — in their first game since win­ning the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion cham­pi­onship — ral­lied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Hous­ton Rock­ets, 134-129, in Tokyo on Tues­day to open the NBA Ja­pan Games.

The ex­hi­bi­tion game at the Saitama Su­per Arena, a site for bas­ket­ball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, was the NBA’s first in Ja­pan since 2003. The Rock­ets and Rap­tors re­turn there to con­clude the two-game se­ries on Thurs­day.

Rap­tors coach Nick Nurse said he liked the arena and felt en­ergy from the Ja­pa­nese fans.

“We get ‘Let’s go, Rap­tors!’ in a lot of cities,” Nurse said. “It’s nice to see it in Tokyo as well. Lot of Rap­tors fans around the world. It’s great.”

There were plenty of Rock­ets fans as well, for good rea­son.

Har­den put on yet an­other daz­zling of­fen­sive show, mak­ing his first six shots and fin­ish­ing 11-for-14 from the field and scor­ing 34 points in 27 min­utes.

His fi­nal points were a pair of free throws with 3:40 left in the third quar­ter that put Hous­ton up 104-87. He checked out shortly af­ter­ward, and Toronto outscored Hous­ton 47-25 the rest of the way.

“It was amaz­ing,” Har­den said. “They got an op­por­tu­nity to see what NBA bas­ket­ball is about, what Rock­ets bas­ket­ball is about. They brought the en­ergy tonight. They were ex­cited from the be­gin­ning of the game. They made us want to go out there and put on a show, so hope­fully it can be that same kind of at­mos­phere on Thurs­day.”

Rus­sell Westbrook played for Hous­ton for the first time, scor­ing 13 points in 21 min­utes in his pre-sea­son de­but.

“It wasn’t bad,” said Westbrook, the long­time Ok­la­homa City star and for­mer MVP now in his first sea­son with Hous­ton. “Un­for­tu­nately, we didn’t win. That’s the main goal. But it was good to get on the floor for the first time, get up and down, try to find a rhythm. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Serge Ibaka scored 18 points and Fred VanVleet scored 16 for the Rap­tors, who played with­out Marc Ga­sol and Kyle Lowry.

There were six games later Tues­day: Philadel­phia plays host to Guangzhou of the Chi­nese Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, San An­to­nio vis­its Mi­ami, Mem­phis hosts New Zealand, Dal­las goes to Ok­la­homa City, Min­nesota is at Phoenix and Den­ver plays in Port­land.

JAE C. HONG THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Toronto’s Pas­cal Siakam, left, is pres­sured by Hous­ton’s Rus­sell Westbrook on Tues­day. Siakam scored 24 points and grabbed 11 re­bounds in the 134-129 vic­tory in Saitama, Ja­pan.

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