McCollum fills in for Lillard as Portland move on to Eastern finals | The Triangle

McCollum fills in for Lillard as Portland move on to Eastern finals

Damien Lillard didn’t show up in Game 7 of the Portland Trail Blazers’ series against the Denver Nuggets, but CJ McCollum managed to ensure Portland advanced to the Western Conference finals (Photograph courtesy of Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/TNS).

History had already been made before the tie-break game of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals featuring the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets, as Game 3 of the series saw the two teams push each other to a quadruple-overtime. This was the second such occurrence in league history and the first since 1953. Game 7 of the series provided Portland fans with a little more history, as the Trail Blazers clinched a 100-96 win to advance to the Conference finals.

At first, the Blazers’ situation looked bleak, as the Nuggets stormed into the Pepsi Center in Colorado with a 29-17 lead in the first quarter. The home team was able to turn things around in the second quarter, outscoring their opponents 22-19. While the momentum had definitely shifted to their side, the Trail Blazers still had a long way to go before coming back from being down by nine at the half.

Luckily for the home crowd, the Trail Blazers did not let up in the third quarter. Their attack was orchestrated by shooting guard C.J. McCollum, who finished the game with the most points on the court. It was McCollum’s late-in-the-quarter jump shot that gave Portland their first lead of the game, as the group claimed the third 32-24. In spite of holding the lead heading into the final stanza, the Nuggets initiated a back-and-forth dogfight that saw both sides scrambling to get buckets.

McCollum’s masterful execution on the night culminated in the fourth quarter, as his three pointer in the dying minutes of the contest provided Portland with the three point lead that would carry the team to their ultimate victory. An exchange of free throws followed, but by then the game had been decided in favor of the Trail Blazers. Enes Kanter had the most rebounds for Portland with 13, while Damian Lillard posted a team-high of eight assists.

The game was massive for McCollum’s confidence, as the Lehigh University standout was pushed into the background of the team in favor of one of this season’s media darlings, Lillard. And though there can be no doubt Lillard deserves every ounce of praise he has been receiving, McCollum has been just as productive in his output in Portland’s postseason run. He almost single-handedly ensured his team’s survival in the early goings, as the Trail Blazers looked all but eliminated by the looks of the first half.

McCollum also generated most of the third quarter comeback, as he made up for Lillard’s struggles on the night. The support was needed, as Lillard went 3-of-17 from the field.

Though McCollum snatched up most of the headlines, it should be noted that he himself was propped up by his own supporting cast. Portland’s role players, such as Evan Turner and Zach Collins, were eager to assist in turning the tide.

There have been several accusations by critics and fans alike aimed at Turner for the duration of the season. Their main grievance has been Turner’s inability to justify his admittedly large price tag. His struggles in the regular season have followed him to the playoffs, in which the forward has only been able to come away with seven points scored during his time on the court. Turner managed to silence his doubters with a competent performance of 14 points, seven rebounds and two assists. These numbers might not be what the fans are demanding, but they are still a step in the right direction for the oft-maligned Turner, who showed he can put the team on his black in flashes if needed.

Another key factor in the downfall of the Nuggets, who must have surely thought they would be cruising to an emphatic win early on, was the team seeming to refuse to hit their three pointers and free throws. Needless to say, these are the most important shots to take at any level of basketball, and Denver’s multiple jacked shots proved they probably should have lost if they couldn’t make them. In their stead, Portland will continue on to the Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, in which the Trail Blazers will have to play their best games of the season to overcome their label of underdogs.