Halfcourt Heave Illustrates What Nurkic's Teammates Already Know: 'Nurk Will Throw Any Pass'
While the Trail Blazers have attempted their share of "Hail Mary" inbounds passes over the years, it’s not something they every work on in practice.
There are relatively few opportunities to utilize the play, it requires an element of improvisation that is hard to recreate in a practice setting and when you have a player like Damian Lillard, who is more than capable of hitting set shots from halfcourt, there just isn’t much cause to use precious practice time working on a set that, even when executed perfectly, is still going to be a low-percentage proposition.
But while all those things are true, there’s another a reason, plainly stated by CJ McCollum, why there’s always a chance they’ll try to pull off a full-court heave to beat the buzzer, as was the case to end the half in Wednesday’s win versus the Jazz in Utah.
Said McCollum: “Nurk will throw any pass.”
The proclivity of Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic to attempt passes with a high degree of difficulty with almost a complete disregard for time, score and situation can be frustrating. He knows that, as do his teammates and coaches. But when it works, as was the case when he flung a one-armed inbounds pass roughly 80 feet to McCollum, who finished the play by making a jumper as the halftime buzzer sounded, it's easy to understand why the 7-0 center sticks with it.
“I think I really can pass,” said Nurkic. “Even sometimes Coach going crazy in my Year 7, but that’s one thing I can do and willing to do.”
And in McCollum, he found a willing wide receiver.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 13, 2021
After wrestling away momentum in the second quarter, the Trail Blazers threaten to give it back by allowing three-straight offensive rebounds in the waining moments of the first half, resulting in a Rudy Gobert tip in with just over a second to play. But rather than conceding the final tick on the clock, Nurkic surveyed the court, and recognized that McCollum, running the equivalent of a wheel route, was sneaking behind the Jazz defense in the same way a running back tries to find space between the linebackers and the secondary.
“I made eye contact when (Nurkic) took it out and he seen me put my head down and kind of sprint,” said McCollum. “It was just more of an understanding that Nurk will make any pass, so if you run hard and get yourself open...”
While both Bojan Bogdanovic's and Gobert's recognition of what was happening came too late to thwart the play, McCollum still had to contend with Jordan Clarkson playing safety in front of Portland's basket. But with Nurkic lobbing the pass just over Clarkson’s outstretched arms, all McCollum had to do was make a clean catch before getting into his shooting motion.
“I don’t know if he’s played football before besides in the summer when we play, but it was a dime, one-hand dime,” said McCollum. “He delivered an Aaron Rodgers, Baker Mayfield like strike to me. And I composed like OBJ/Jarvis Landry and knocked it down.”
The connection between Nurkic and McCollum resulted in Portland taking a three-point lead into the intermission, but more importantly, it gave the Blazers something to feel good about -- and something for the Jazz and over 6,000 of their fans in attendance to stew over -- before heading into the locker room.
“We needed every basket,” said McCollum. “Every basket you can get, every possession matters, especially when you play against quality opponents.”