How did the Portland Trail Blazers do it? How did they manage to go into Denver on Sunday and win Game 7 while shooting 15 percent on 3-pointers? How did they beat the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed 100-96 after falling behind by 17 points in the first half? How did they wind up celebrating on the Nuggets’ home floor after star guard Damian Lillard put in one of his worst performances (3-for-17 from the field) of the postseason? Why am I pestering you with questions when you already know that “C.J. McCollum” is the answer to all of them?
McCollum scored 37 points on Sunday and was an all-around offensive supernova. Every time the Nuggets made it a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter, McCollum sprung up to shove them into his wake with a barrage of silky mid-range jumpers.
The box score says McCollum went 17-for-29, but that can’t be right. My eyes (which are terrible) and my memory (which is only slightly better) tell me that McCollum didn’t miss a single shot all night. It certainly felt that way as he carved up Denver’s defense.
Game 7s are difficult, as evidenced by the performances of most everyone on the court not named C.J. McCollum. It was a sloppy contest played at altitude, but McCollum floated around in a bubble set to his own barometric environment and he made the act of taking over an elimination game look like breeze.
He even found the energy to provide the defensive play of the game when he chased down Jamal Murray and slapped his breakaway lay-up off the glass like LeBron James (if LeBron James was actually in the playoffs).
Sure, there were other reasons for Portland’s success in Denver. Head coach Terry Stotts got creative with his lineups. Forward Evan Turner had barely seen the court all series but he came up big in the clutch. The Blazers held Denver to just two made 3-pointers over 48 minutes. With two evenly matched teams, Game 7 was always going to be a problem. Luckily for Portland, McCollum was the answer.