Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum had an interesting perspective on the way the team rallied from down 20 in the second quarter at Sacramento to trail by three and then went down 19 in the third quarter only to come all the way back to win, 132-126 Wednesday night.
“Honestly, I don’t know what’s more impressive,” McCollum said. “Coming back from 20 twice or going down 20 twice.”
He had a point.
It’s not often that a basketball team at any level digs such a hole twice in one game and still wins. But the Blazers (7-4) had three things going for them at the Garden 1 Center.
First, Damian Lillard had a special night. He became the first player in NBA history to have at least 40 points and 13 assists with zero turnovers. Secondly, the Kings (5-7) played at a dizzying pace that both led to their big leads and contributed to their downfall.
And finally, the Blazers simply didn’t quit.
“I think it says a lot about our character as a team and what we’re becoming,” Lillard said. “I think we’ve always been that team that didn’t lose fight. We’ve always stayed in it and fought to the end. But I think we’re a little bit more experienced now. We brought in some experienced guys.”
The Kings were scorching hot early while building a 58-38 lead with 7:20 remaining in the second quarter. However, McCollum said the Blazers didn’t truly feel like they were down 20 points because the game moved at a fast pace and possessions were piling up.
“You just kind of understand you need to string together stops.” McCollum said. “Offensively, we were in good shape.”
Stringing together stops didn’t seem possible in that moment. The Kings were on pace to score 198 points. Sacramento guard Buddy Hield, who finished with 26 points, was seemingly in a zone. Right there with him was point guard De’Aaron Fox, who finished with 29 points.
“They’re athletic, they know how to play, they got shooters,” McCollum said. “They got scorers…They’re a talented team.”
Down 20, it was in that moment when the team dipped into its bag of trust. Lillard said the team trusted the changes made on defense during training camp. Trusted the offense. Trusted one another. They didn’t splinter and go their own ways.
“We stayed together and we fought,” Lillard said.
Portland figured things out and cut its deficit to 68-65 at halftime. That was the good news. The bad news was that center Jusuf Nurkic picked up three personal fouls within three minutes late in the second quarter.
His fourth foul came on an offensive charge at 10:43 in the third quarter with Portland down 72-68. Portland coach Terry Stotts took Nurkic out of the game at 9:01.
“I was mad when coach pulled me out in the third quarter…,” Nurkic said. “I didn’t want to go down 20 again.”
Two minutes and 46 seconds later, Portland trailed 94-75.
At that point, the game could have easily gone further south. The Blazers were on the road. The Kings were rolling. Nurkic was in foul trouble. It was the first of a back-to-back with Indiana (7-4) up next at home Thursday night.
But because the Blazers had already come back once, according to McCollum, they believed they could do it again.
“It’s just about getting stops, getting easy baskets and then just a testament to us kind of staying together.” McCollum said.
Portland chipped away at the Kings’ lead until the Blazers trailed just 105-100 entering the fourth quarter.
“More than anything else, I like the way we fought back after things weren’t going our way in the third quarter,” Stotts said.
The Blazers and Kings went back and forth until the score sat at 117-116, Kings with 5:55 remaining.
That, Lillard said, is when the Blazers found their final push.
“At that point, I think our experience and our resolve really showed,” Lillard said.
McCollum hit a three on an assist from Lillard to give Portland a 119-117 lead and the Blazers never trailed again. The Blazers did allow a 127-120 lead with 3:20 remaining become 128-126 lead with 42.3 seconds on the clock.
But Lillard scored on a drive to the basket and the Kings missed their final three shots.
“We made plays on both ends of the floor to win the game and I think that the pace that they play at gave us the opportunity to do that,” Lillard said.
The Blazers felt good about walking away with the win, of course, but doing it by overcoming multiple bouts with adversity showed that this team could figure things out even in the most trying of circumstances.
Still, Nurkic didn’t appear eager to go through that experience again.
“I hope we don’t need that no more,” Nurkic said.
The original article can be found here.