The final (and best) edition of the “recap each Portland Trail Blazers player’s best game of the 2019-20 season” series looks at the star back court. Although a disappointing year all-around for the team, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had several incredible outings that single-handedly won games for Portland. Therefore, choosing their pinnacle performance was tough. Here are the verdicts:
McCollum’s best stretch of the year came during Lillard’s injury post-All-Star break. Without its leader, the unintegrated roster desperately needed someone to step up and spearhead the offense. McCollum successfully assumed the role of ball handler and initiator during this six-game stretch, most notably against the Detroit Pistons on February 23. In the three-point victory, he recorded 41 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists and had a plus-minus of +17.
In the first quarter alone, McCollum scored 15 points on 6/9 shooting. He hit three three-pointers Lillard style: pulling up at the top of the arc right after dribbling around a screen from Hassan Whiteside. Once Thon Maker started blitzing pick and rolls to prevent that shot, McCollum made the right reads to either find Whiteside rolling or a wing open on the perimeter. On one such play, a high-lofting skip pass to Carmelo Anthony led to a three that put Portland ahead by 13. When McCollum went to the bench at the end of the opening frame, the Blazers led by 16 points.
By the time he returned with about seven minutes remaining in the half, the lead was down to two. Those were the only five minutes he rested all night.
McCollum ended a tough third quarter with a fading triple to close the deficit to five points. His hot shooting slowed during the second and third quarters as it did for every Portland player; the Pistons outscored the Blazers 61-40 in that time.
In the fourth, he reached a career-high in assists with an underhand dish to Anthony. That three-pointer brought the deficit to three with less than six minutes left. Then, McCollum time began. Via contested runners and free throws, he scored eight of Portland’s last 10 points in the final 2:49 to regain and hold the lead through the final buzzer.
Overall, McCollum accounted for 63.6% of the team’s offensive output through his 41 points and 12 assists.
Any game during Lillard’s blazing magma inferno streak – plus his 60-point outing against the Brooklyn Nets – could pass as his best of the 2019-20 season. For reasons beyond the box score, his performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Kobe Bryant night took the title. Not only did he post 48 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists and beat the No. 1 seeded Lakers 127-119, but he also embodied Mamba Mentality.
Coming off four straight insane games, Lillard entered the contest confident. He tried a step back three-pointer over Anthony Davis on the first possession and got blocked, leading to a run out dunk by Davis. LA’s other elite defenders, Danny Green and Avery Bradley, hounded Lillard around every ball screen to force him off the perimeter. But it was only a matter of time before the streaking Lillard found his way around the defense.
To start the second half, he knocked down a deep catch-and-shoot three to tie the game. Two possessions later, he hit an even deeper three to quickly extend the lead to five points. A few no calls on drives then prompted Lillard to earn a technical foul, which only provided him and the team with motivation. He threw down a monster dunk over Javale McGee and hit another Lillard-range triple at the end of the shot clock.
Lillard scored 23 points in the third quarter alone to put Portland in front by seven.
His hot shooting tailed off in the fourth, but he still converted a few crucial layups and midrange jumpers to maintain the lead. An impressive mano a mano against Bradley kept the advantage at six with 1:30 remaining, and a clutch Whiteside turnaround jumper put the icing on the cake for Portland’s best win of the season.
Lillard finish 17/30 from the field, 7/12 from three and a team-high +12 in his 40 minutes of play.