Kevin Porter Jr. erupts for 50 points as Rockets top Bucks

Kevin Porter Jr. had kept a straight face most of the night. He flexed a bit after he scored through a P.J. Tucker foul. He pounded his chest after a pull-up jumper. Finally, he could not help himself.

Porter nailed a 3-pointer and then drained another, and as he headed back defensively, a smile stretched across his face, the game of his young life certain.

When he was through, a season that had brought so much disappointment and drama had a beaming sign of hope. Porter was not the only one with reason to smile.

With their second-year point guard and centerpiece of the rebuilding scoring a career-high 50 points, topping James Harden’s opening night 44 for the most by a Rockets player this season, he was not the only one beaming. He had taken the Rockets past the Bucks, 143-136, dribbling out the final seconds of a game he might never forget.

A game after Porter had gone 2 of 12, and after two weeks in which he was out for health and safety protocol after going to a club in Miami, Porter had made 16 of 26 shots and 9 of 15 3s for the most points for a Rockets player since Dec. 13, 2019.

Christian Wood added 31, making a career high six 3-pointers. The Rockets even got a win down the stretch of a tight game.

The Bucks had led by as much as 17 even after star Giannis Antetokounmpo left the game in the second minute after tripping over Kelly Olynyk on a break, seeming to reaggravate the right ankle sprain that he brought inro the game.

Holiday scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half and Khris Middleton had 33. But the Rockets rode the shooting of Porter and Wood to an eight-point third-quarter lead, a rally that not only brought them back from down 17 late in the first half but gave them their largest lead they had held since they last won a game, six games earlier in Orlando. It was their largest lead at home since their previous win, 12 games earlier against the Mavericks.

Even after Wood and Porter sat to start the fourth quarter, the Rockets were up seven before Holiday happened.

Holiday outscored the Rockets 12-2 in 86 seconds, rapidly erasing the Rockets lead. The Bucks kept scoring easily, making 8 of their first 9 shots of the fourth quarter. But with Wood and Porter back on the floor, the Rockets kept pace. When Porter scored through a Tucker foul for a three-point play, he had 38 and the game was tied with five minutes left.

Porter followed that with his seventh 3-pointer of the night to put the Rockets in front. He then nailed another, and the Rockets never looked back.

The Rockets had put together a first half among their best offensively in months only to put up little resistance on the other end for most of the half.

When that changed, so did the game.

Wood especially scored from the 3-point line to the rim, making 3 of 5 3s and scoring 19 points. Porter, who had missed his first 10 shots on Tuesday, bounced back to hit 6 of 10 in the first half Thursday to score 18 first-half points. Between them, they hit six first-half 3s as the Rockets uncharacteristically made 42.9 percent of their 3s.

Even without Antetokounmpo, however, the Bucks consistently were getting great looks through the first half, often needing one screen for a ballhandler to get to the rim or one off-ball screen to get an open 3.

The Bucks brought a 73-65 lead into the second half with Bryn Forbes scoring 18 points and Bobby Portis adding 10 as the Milwaukee reserves outscored the depleted Rockets bench 39-9. But the Rockets had moved the ball and shot well enough to get back in the game.

They just needed to get in the Bucks’ way. They did to end the half and brought that into the second half when Porter and Wood went from hot to hotter.

The Rockets tore through a 22-4 run to end the first half and start the second, taking their first lead of the game. The greater challenge in a shootout would be to keep that up. Porter answered that call, and then dominated until the Rockets five-game losing streak was over, the rebuilding seeming to take a giant step forward.

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