Every day we have NBA basketball in the bubble is a success, and on Friday the basketball was pretty darn good as well. Some of the league’s best teams took the court for the first time in Orlando, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard among the stars making their bubble debuts.
Two games went to overtime and plenty of players put up huge numbers, but the most noteworthy part of Friday’s action may have taken place before the games even started. Below are the scores from Friday’s games along with some key takeaways.
Isaac stands for anthem
Magic forward Jonathan Isaac played in his first game since New Year’s Day on Friday, putting up 16 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes in a win over the Nets. But it was something that happened before the game that got the most attention. Isaac became the first NBA player to stand during the playing of the national anthem during the restart in Orlando. He also wore his jersey rather than the “Black Lives Matter” shirts most players have worn before games.
Isaac said he informed his teammates about his decision before the game, and explained his thought process afterward.
“I believe that Black Lives Matter,” Isaac said after the game. “A lot went into my decision, and part of it is, I thought that kneeling or wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with supporting Black lives. So I felt like, just me personally, what is that I believe is taking on a stance that, I do believe that Black lives matter, but I just felt like it was a decision that I had to make, and I didn’t feel like putting that shirt on and kneeling went hand in hand with supporting Black lives. I believe that for myself, my life has been supported by gospel, Jesus Christ, and everyone is made in the image of God and that we all forge through God’s glory.”
You can read Isaac’s full comments here.
Texas teams’ offensive explosion
An Texas rivalry made its way to the bubble, and ironically the scores got even bigger. The Rockets and Mavericks combined to score 302 points on Friday night — no, that’s not a typo. Houston ended up winning in overtime, 153-149, and the individual statistics were as impressive as you might imagine:
- James Harden: 49 points, (14-20 FG), nine rebounds, eight assists
- Kristaps Porzingis: 39 points, 16 rebounds, two steals, one block
- Russell Westbrook: 31 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists
- Trey Burke (!): 31 points (8-10 3PT), six assists
- Luka Doncic: 28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists
While Burke came out of absolutely nowhere for the Mavericks, Harden was hot from the very start, showcasing his full offensive arsenal all night long. There was some concern that he wouldn’t be in shape after arriving late to the bubble, but he clearly wasn’t bothered on Friday.
In addition to the offensive exploits, this was a big win for the Rockets, who erased a 14-point deficit to force overtime and eventually get the win. They move into the No. 5 seed, ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and are just one game back of the No. 4 Utah Jazz and three games behind the No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers.
MVP makes early bubble statement
The Bucks took care of business in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup, and it was none other than reigning MVP (and this year’s likely winner) Giannis Antetokounmpo taking over down the stretch. The Greek Freak was simply dominant all night, finishing with 36 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists on 14-for-20 shooting.
The Celtics kept things close despite a minutes limit for Kemba Walker (16 points in 19 minutes) and a horrific offensive night from Jayson Tatum (five points on 2-for-18 shooting), so they should feel confident going into a potential playoff matchup. On Friday, however, the Bucks proved why they have the NBA’s best record.
Big win for Blazers
It took overtime and some late heroics from Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony, but the Trail Blazers picked up a much-needed win in their chase for the eighth and final playoff spot. They cut their deficit to 2.5 games by beating the No. 8-seed Grizzlies on Friday, but their schedule gets real tough real quick with upcoming games against the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers and Mavericks.
Portland needs to stay within four games of the eighth seed in order to force a play-in series. In that regard, the win over Memphis also put them a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, who both lost their first bubble games and are among the Blazers’ competition for the No. 9 seed.
By the way, you can get the full story on Carmelo’s heroics here.
Nurkic returns with extra inspiration
Jusuf Nurkic played his first NBA game since a nasty leg injury in March of 2019 on Friday, and he showed absolutely no signs of rust. He was incredibly active on both ends of the floor while filling the stat sheet with 18 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and five assists in 33 minutes before fouling out. Nurkic was instrumental in bringing the Blazers back down the stretch, lifting the team’s spirits with this ferocious dunk with three minutes left.
After the game Nurkic revealed another source of inspiration: His grandmother has tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently in a coma.
“My grandma got COVID. She’s in a hospital, in a coma,” Nurkic said after the game. “I think people don’t realize that s–t is real out there.”
The Ja and Jaren Show
The Grizzlies’ future is in pretty good hands with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. The two young stars helped the Grizzlies fight their way back in the third quarter before losing to the Blazers in overtime. Jackson finished with 33 points on 6-for-15 3-point shooting, while Morant added 22 points, 11 assists and five rebounds … oh yeah, and he did this:
The Grizzlies are a must-watch when these two guys are on the court.
Boban vs. Small Ball = Entertainment
The Rockets went all-in on small ball. Boban Marjanovic is anything but small. When the two meet, the result looks like a high school junior on an elementary school playground:
Obviously the 7-foot-4 Marjanovic has defensive limitations against a team with nobody over 6-foot-9 so he only played a handful of minutes, but it was quite a sight to behold. He finished with six points and five rebounds in just four minutes, and the Mavs outscored the Rockets by seven points while he was on the court.