Controversy-hit Rockets beat Raptors in Japan preseason game

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Toronto Raptors during the 2019 NBA Japan Game on October 10, 2019 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Copyright 2019 NBAE Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images/AFP.


SAITAMA, JAPAN (AFP) — The Houston Rockets won a preseason exhibition game against the NBA champion Toronto Raptors 118-111 on Thursday, ending their Japan tour shadowed by controversy after a tweet by their general manager sparked outrage in China.

Former NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored 22 points after making his Rockets debut in Japan on Tuesday.

The two exhibition games took place after a tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey backing anti-government protests in Hong Kong kicked up a storm in China.

It led to Chinese sponsors abandoning the team and the state-run TV network banishing them from the airwaves.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, currently in Shanghai for a separate set of preseason games, said the organization would continue to “support freedom of expression and certainly freedom of expression of the NBA community”.

The Rockets will now head to Houston to take on the San Antonio Spurs in a home preseason game next week, while the Raptors will play a home preseason game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

The Houston Rockets won more than 50 games but missed the Western Conference finals last season after they were defeated by the Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors had a stellar season, however, becoming the first NBA champions from outside the United States by dethroning Golden State in the finals.

But the Toronto side now face a tough season after NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard left for the Los Angeles Clippers.