The Portland Trail Blazers withstood 25 lead changes, a handful of injury scares, and one heck of a punch from a shorthanded Miami Heat group on Thursday night. They made just enough plays down the stretch to steal a 125-122 thriller. On the backs of a marquee night from CJ McCollum, Portland opened the first of their two-day Florida trip with a victory.
The group continues to put its resiliency on display, and in the process, they moved to 26-18, and back into a deadlock with the Denver Nuggets for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. As evidenced by the score, it was a seesaw battle throughout. If you missed Dave Deckard’s instant recap, here’s a look at that. Here are a few takeaways from the win.
A Vintage Performance from CJ McCollum:
Perhaps it’s just the extra moxie that comes with surviving another trade deadline, but CJ McCollum had an extra pep in his step in tonight’s victory. Though he eventually cooled off midway through, McCollum scored 21 points in the first quarter and had 29 by halftime, and paired that with much-needed facilitating.
By game’s end, McCollum had 35 points and eight assists on 14-of-25 from the field and six 3-pointers. One could argue that his hot start couldn’t have come at a better time. It provided the Blazers with flexibility in regards to staggering the minutes of either he or Damian Lillard. Since McCollum’s return, Terry Stotts has generally let whomever was hotter play until the end of the first quarter. That decision becomes much easier when one of them hits their season average by quarter one. It’s especially timely with the assortment of injuries Lillard is dealing with.
Thinking towards the future, McCollum admitted that he was about 90 percent, and still needs to get his legs completely under him. His sheer presence is enough to elicit trepidation from opposing defenses. By the third commercial break, CJ was working through more doubles than a busy bartender. After averaging just 16.4 points on 16.8 shots in his first five games back, it was a refreshing sight seeing him set fire to this elite Miami defense.
No Answer for Adebayo:
In an NBA where Robin-type players struggle to pivot into Batman roles when needed, All-Star big Bam Adebayo didn’t have much trouble flipping the switch tonight. He seemed to have a fingerprint on every possession, both defensively and offensively, and that nearly spelled doom for the Blazers. Portland had trouble with the Heat’s DHO-based offense and Adebayo’s pindown screens which allowed Adebayo to either facilitate or play a role in getting guys open.
As expected, Portland looked to Robert Covington — who’s become something of a cheat code for his ability to take featured offensive stars out of the game — to take on the task of defending Adebayo, especially late in the game. It wasn’t too long ago that Julius Randle and Karl-Anthony Towns had marquee games against the Blazers before Covington took on the assignment and turned that water off.
Adebayo had his way, to the tune of 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists on 13-of-16 shooting. Outside of Covington, no other matchup seemed to bode well for Portland, and for that, it deserves a takeaway.
Blazers Grit Teeth Through Injuries Once Again:
As has been the theme for much of the last few weeks, the Trail Blazers again had to overcome bumps and bruises on their way to a resilient victory. There were, of course, the ones we already knew about — particularly Damian Lillard’s knee — and then an injury scare to Derrick Jones Jr. that sent him to the locker room for a brief period.
It served as a great irony that Jones Jr. made the and-one shot that ensured the Blazers never trailed again, and then Lillard connected on the three game-winning free throws that put them over the top for good. It’s the storybook ending, but it’s not enjoyable to watch. Lillard continues to be $2 steak tough, limping and grimacing his way through most of the games, and as the TNT broadcast crew noted, there were moments in which he couldn’t turn the corner and blow by defenders on his way to the rack. He summoned enough to produce when it matters most.
The Blazers, already shorthanded because of their trade, got major efforts from Carmelo Anthony (20 points, 6 rebounds), Enes Kanter (18 points, 16 rebounds), and Robert Covington (10 points, including a clutch 3-pointer late). And Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons produced either through infectious energy or bucket-making in their own right.
The Blazers will continue their Florida trip tomorrow night against the new-look Orlando Magic tomorrow at 5:00 pm PT.