The Blazers came away with a thriller of a victory on Friday night, outlasting the Nuggets in quadruple OT and coming away with a 2-1 series lead. Rodney Hood was the hero of the moment, hitting the go-ahead three with 17 seconds left to put the Blazers up 140-137. But the real hero, and the guy who can unlock the best version of the Blazers, was C.J. McCollum.
McCollum finished with 41 points in sixty minutes of playing time. He came up big all night, and when McCollum is on, the Blazers are at their most dangerous. Damian Lillard is as clutch as you can find, but he can struggle when teams trap him on the pick and roll, as we saw during last year’s playoffs. In those games, McCollum is the only other player who can shoulder the load offensively. He’s shown in the past he’s an above-average scorer, and Portland will need that version of McCollum going forward.
While McCollum and Lillard have both been busting their butts on the defensive end of the floor, they’re never going to be elite or shut down their matchups. They need to get those points back on the offensive end, and Lillard can consistently be counted on to do so as the linchpin of their offense. McCollum can disappear at times, though. The Nuggets are a dangerous offensive team, and Portland must be able to count on McCollum to compete.
Lillard is the high-powered engine of the Blazers. McCollum is the nitro that sends that engine into overdrive when he’s hitting his shots and making plays. They don’t need him to shoot 39 times every game, as he did in their marathon Game 3 win. But they do need him in rhythm, stretching defenses and forcing them to collapse as he drives to the paint. If he can do that, the Blazers can hang with anybody.