McCollum Goes Off In Fourth To Lift Blazers Past Clippers

by Casey Holdahl
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LOS ANGELES -- For the better part of three quarters, neither the Trail Blazers nor the Clippers were able to get much separation in an important contest for both teams at Staples Center.

CJ McCollum changed that.

After starting the game by missing his first seven shots, McCollum was all but unstoppable in the fourth quarter, scoring 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting to turn a close game into a comfortable 124-104 victory in front of a crowd of 16,686 Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

“It’s an understatement: CJ had it going in the fourth,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Especially after the start he had — I think he missed his first seven shots — but he showed us what he’s made of. He came in, never lost confidence, took the shots that were there and got us over the hump.”

The Trail Blazers are now 41-26 overall, 16-17 on the road this season and have now secured the tiebreaker with the Clippers by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. Portland is in a tie with the Oklahoma City Thunder for fourth in the Western Conference standings with 15 games to play.

Despite being the more rested team, the Trail Blazers were out-hustled by the Clippers, a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back, in the early going of Tuesday’s contest. L.A. won the rebounding battle 15-6, shot 18 percentage points better than Portland from the field and went 4-of-5 from three in the first quarter to take a 30-23 lead into the second quarter.

But Portland would get things moving in the right direction in the second quarter. They held the Clippers to 7-of-27 shooting in the quarter, did a much better job on both the offensive and defensive glass and allowed no fastbreak points after L.A. scored nine in the first quarter. The result was Portland going into the half trailing by just two despite playing nowhere near their best.

Behind 11 third-quarter points from Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, the Trail Blazers took their first lead of the second half at the 7:53 mark of the third. That lead would expand to seven, though the Clippers outscored the Blazers 12-6 in the final 3:55 of the quarter to cut Portland’s lead to one going into the fourth.

Then McCollum took over.

The 6-4 guard out of Lehigh had already started to get his rhythm in the third quarter, but it wasn’t until the fourth that he truly assumed control of the outcome. He made his first shot of the fourth, a nine-foot floater, with 9:50 to play and proceeded to rattle off 19 points over the next five minutes.

“I’ve seen that movie," said Lillard. "I always tell you guys, when he sees the ball go in a few times, he can get going. At that point, my job is to just try to make it last as long as possible. It lasted long enough to get us up in double-digits, and we were able to pull away.”

Over the course of a roughly two-minute stretch in the fourth, McCollum made three three-pointers in a row, capped by a three shot trip to the free throw line, to turn a five-point game into a 14-point runaway.

"I don’t ever get gun-shy," said McCollum. "I’ve missed a lot of shots in my career and percentage-wise you’re going to miss more than you make, especially from three. You just have to stay confident, stay aggressive and know who you are. I’m very comfortable with who I am as a basketball player and a person, so I just go out there and try to be my best self.”

McCollum finished with 35 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field, 6-of-11 shooting from three and 5-of-6 shooting from the free throw line to go with four assists, four rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes.

While McCollum’s heroics were the difference in the second half, the Trail Blazers were kept afloat in the first half thanks to the play of Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic.

Lillard, who fell three points short of surpassing LaMarcus Aldridge for second in franchise history in scoring, put up a double-double of 20 points and a season-high tying 12 assists while also grabbing three rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes.

"I didn't come into the game saying 'I need to pass (Aldridge) tonight,'" said Lillard. "It's a lot of games for me to do that. I was scoring some points, I was making shots tonight but they started to give me a lot of attention with traps and all that stuff, so I was just trying to make the next play and make them pay for giving me all that attention. CJ got going so it really wasn't a need for me to try and go out there and score. I had opportunities -- I could have had 25 or 27 just if a few shots would have went in, but it was no need for me to go out there and try to force myself to score. When I was getting so much attention I can get off the ball and create better offense."

As for Nurkic, he also went for 20 and 12, though the later coming by way of rebounds rather than assists, though he did pitch in two helpers as well in 25 minutes.

Enes Kanter came a rebound short of a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds while also adding three rebounds, a steal and a block in 20 minutes.

“I thought our production from the center spot was terrific,” said Stotts. “Both Enes and Nurk, from a scoring standpoint and from a rebounding standpoint, were very effective.”

Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers with 22 points off the bench to go with 11 rebounds in 26 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers have two days off before continuing a three-game trip in New Orleans versus the Pelicans. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.