CJ McCollum has always been “the other guy” for the Portland Trail Blazers. While Damian Lillard has ascended to become one of the NBA’s best scorers, McCollum has been his setup man. The Robin to his Batman. But on Sunday during Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, it was McCollum, not the Blazers’ four-time All-Star, who stepped up and carried them.
McCollum dropped 37 points while grabbing nine rebounds as Portland topped the Denver Nuggets 100-96. The Blazers went on the road and took down a Denver team that had won an NBA-best 34 games at home this season. While Lillard mustered just 13 points on 3-of-17 shooting in 45 minutes, McCollum took over and made big shot after big shot. Oh, and he made the play of the game on defense.
With less than five minutes to go in the game and the Blazers up 87-83, Jamal Murray got loose on a breakaway and had what looked like a clear chance at a layup. The bucket would have given the Nuggets a ton of momentum. McCollum had other ideas. He sprinted down the floor and rejected it.
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Then down the stretch, McCollum continually came up huge with big buckets. It’s worth re-watching his entire performance:
Yes, McCollum has scored that many points before — heck in Game 3 he went for 41 — but on Sunday he wasn’t just scoring, he was dropping in huge buckets at the exact right time. He stepped up exactly when his team needed it the most.
If McCollum can continue to take his game to previously unseen heights, Portland will have a fighting chance against the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals. When Lillard and McCollum are both firing, the Blazers are incredibly dangerous.
On Sunday, McCollum stepped up for his backcourt buddy, and in the process he took his game to an entirely new level.