Portland's Supporting Cast Finally Stepped Up When They Needed It Most
The Portland Trail Blazers' fierce run to claim the eighth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs has really just been the Damian Lillard Show. The superstar point guard went on a preposterous tear over three games to give the Blazers sole possession of the final playoff spot, leading to a play-in game on Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lillard was either going to come back to Earth or the other team was going to dedicate so much attention to him that he would be forced to take a step back and distribute rather than score. The latter happened on Saturday. With their season on the line, the Grizzlies were determined to not let Lillard win the game by himself. He still finished with 31 points, but shot only 5-of-14 from deep and keeping Liillard to less than 40 is an accomplishment in of itself in the bubble.
But the Blazers' supporting cast decided they wouldn't let this one slip away. CJ McCollum has somehow been playing with a fractured back and came up huge down the stretch, drilling two iso jumpers over young stud Ja Morant to put the Blazers just far enough ahead. He finished with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and just in case you didn't hear it the first time, he's playing with a fractured back. Jusuf Nurkic, who suffered the terrible loss of his grandmother to COVID-19 just hours before gametime, had an absolute monster performance, putting up a 21-point, 21-rebound double-double. It was inspirational, quite frankly.
Even Carmelo Anthony, he who was declared washed as recently as six months ago, stepped up at just the right moment, hitting a massive three in the final minute to essentially seal the deal for Portland. It was the only three-pointer he hit all night, but nobody will remember that. We'll only remember when Melo stepped up in the clutch, again.
Watching Lillard cook opposing defenses might be the most enjoyable thing to do for basketball fans right now. But he can't do it all by himself, all the time. He needed his teammates to step up to secure the right to play the Lakers in the first round today, and they did. They'll need to do even more if Portland wants even the faintest chance of pulling off the nigh-impossible and taking out Los Angeles in Round 1.