Nurkić Dominates Celtics In Second Half To Secure .500 Road Trip

by Casey Holdahl
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BOSTON -- This time around, it was the “Bosnian Beast” who made the big shot.

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic capped off yet another impressive performance with a go-ahead hook shot off an offensive rebound with 13.1 seconds to play to lift Portland to a 109-105 victory versus the Celtics in front of a sellout crowd of 19,156 at TD Garden in Boston Friday night.

“We just were so resilient,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “We had so many guys play well in the game. They couldn’t control Nurk.”

The Trail Blazers are now 19-26 overall and 5-15 on the road this season. Portland has more wins on their current (three) than they had on the road in the first two-plus months (two) of the 2021-22 season. And with the win, the Blazers and Celtics split their season series 1-1.

“I just want us to keep getting better, keep getting to know each other on the floor, keep holding each other accountable out there,” said Billups. “Our guys are talking so much more, they’re so much more in tune with one another and that’s all I want to do. You let the chips fall where they may, I just want us to just keep getting better as a team, keep getting closer.”

After leading by as many as 15 points in the first half and by a point after the first three quarters, the Trail Blazers found themselves down 100-89 with a little over seven minutes to play in regulation thanks to a 18-6 Boston run to start the fourth.

And considering the difficulty they had scoring in the fourth quarter a few nights prior in Miami -- they scored just 12 points in the final 12 minute in the loss -- many probably assumed Friday’s game was heading in the same direction and would end with a similar result.

But rather than rolling over, Portland came to life. CJ McCollum, starting in his third game since returning from an extended absence, got on the board in the fourth with a 25-foot three-pointer with 5:32 to play, which he followed up with a pullup jumper on the next possession.

“You’ve just got to keep everybody composed, and understand and know that teams are going to make runs in this league,” said Billups “And in particular, you on the road. They’re going to make a run, it’s okay, we’re in good shape. We found what we felt worked. Get up 15, we have a tough second quarter because we kind of went away from what we knew was working. And then we come back out, said ‘They’re going to make some runs, that’s okay.’ We get back to our meat and potatoes and try to get back in the game, and we did.”

Then Anferee Simons converted a runner with just over three minutes to play, followed by a Nurkic offense rebound that he would convert into points and then a Simons steal that allowed Nassir Little to get a dunk in transition to tie the game at 100-100 with 1:37 to play.

“We was in zone, we ended up scrambling a little bit and I was able to be in the right spot, kind of fell into a steal,” said Simons. “We was able to get out in transition, two on one, give it to Nas for a big time dunk. That was a shift-changer in the momentum, for sure.”

Robert Covington, after going scoreless in the first three and a half quarters, converted a corner three off a McCollum assist, though it was sandwiched in between successful two-shot trips to the line for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to give Boston a 104-103 Boston lead with 26.8 seconds to play.

After calling time, Simons got a good look at a floater in the paint with 16.6 seconds to play, though the shot would rim off. But Nurkic was there to grab the offensive rebound, his sixth of the night, and find enough space to get off a hook shot that gave the Blazers a 105-104 advantage with 13.1 seconds to play.

“I know they going to go for Ant,” said Nurkic. “Everybody was there, I felt like I just know if I’m going to be lucky, the ball come back to me somehow and I’m gonna get it. Luckily the bounce was coming to my side, I was able to get it and I just know if I put it up it going to go in. In fourth quarter you feel the energy, you not more tired... It was like, I need to get it to shoot it so that was basically what happened.”

Nurkic followed up the effort on the offensive end with one that was equally important on the defensive end. The center was able to stay in front of Tatum, who opted for a stepback three that was well off. Robert Williams corralled the offensive rebound but unlike Nurkic the possession prior, could not get the second attempt to drop. Covington would get the next rebound, was promptly fouled and made both free throws to make give Portland a three-point advantage.

Portland fouled Tatum with 2.6 seconds to play in order to avoid a potentially game-tying three. He made the first and intentionally missed the second, though Nurkic was there to grab his 17th rebound of the night. He was fouled and made both of his free throws to ice the victory as fans streamed out of the building.

In the end, the Trail Blazers would hold the Celtics to no field goals in the final seven minutes and 19 seconds of regulation. What’s more, Boston would score just five points, all on free throws, in that span.

“We was up 15, right?” said Nurkic. “So we know we could win the game. Game of runs. Playing the game with the way they play, they was switching. Start of game I was like wow, they was really switching everything, try to take my away postups. It was just like, we know we can get shots and get good shots, especially the way I was doubled. And that’s what we did. I think defense, we trust each other probably the most in the whole season, so I think that was the biggest key of the game.”

Nurkic continued one of the best stretches of his career, going 9-of-16 from the field, 10-of-13 from the free throw line and even made the only three-pointer he attempted to finish with 29 points in 37 minutes. The 7-0 Bosnian also tallied 17 rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block in the winning effort.

McCollum shot 5-of-10 from three on the way to 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 36 minutes. Simons went 8-of-17 from the field and 4-of-8 from three for 21 points to go with four assists and two steals in 38 minutes.

Ben McLemore was the only other Blazer to score in double figured with 12 points, all on threes, in 20 minutes. Little added posted seven points, eight rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes after leaving Wednesday’s loss to the Heat in the first half with a knee injury.

Tatum led Boston with 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field and 11-of-14 shooting from three to go with 10 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes. Brown added 22 points.

Next up, the Trail Blazers head to the Great White North to face the Raptors in Toronto in the last game of a six-game trip. Tipoff is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m.

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