It took longer than they would have liked, but the Trail Blazers on Saturday finally dispatched the Brooklyn Nets when CJ McCollum punctuated a 31-point night with back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter that sealed a 130-116 win at the Moda Center.
It was the second straight win for Portland (26-35), which moved within 1.5 games of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with 21 games remaining. Denver lost at home earlier in the night to Charlotte.
After the game, coach Terry Stotts said it was a game the Blazers had to secure.
"We have to,'' Stotts said. "We don’t have a lot of wiggle room anyway, but with all due respect to Brooklyn, this was a game we had to have.''
Portland led for all but the first minute of the game, but despite building leads as large as 15, they could never put away the team with the NBA’s worst record. Brooklyn (10-51) erased the 15-point deficit by tying the game at 55 in the final minute before halftime and were within 100-92 with nine minutes left before McCollum made back-to-back threes that pushed the lead back to double digits.
While McCollum was the finisher late – he scored 12 of his 31 points in the fourth – center Jusuf Nurkic was the spark early, scoring eight of his 17 points in the first quarter. Nurkic added five rebounds and five assists and continued his resurgence since arriving in a trade from Denver on Feb. 12. In six games with the Blazers, Nurkic is averaging 14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Starters Damian Lillard (19 points, 11 assists) and Maurice Harkless (18 points) were key as were big contributions from the bench as Al-Farouq Aminu scored 23, which included hitting 5-of-6 from three-point range.
"I'm glad he had night like tonight when all those people in December told him to stop shooting,'' Stotts said. "He's playing at a very good level right now.''
Brooklyn stayed in the game behind the inside play of center Brook Lopez (26 points) and the outside shooting of Sean Kilpatrick, who hit six of his seven three point attempts, en route to a 20-point night. All told, Brooklyn shot 52.9 percent, which included making 14-of-30 from three-point range.
The Blazers led 58-57 at halftime, but that lead came with some frustration and an injury scare. The frustration came in losing a 15-point lead and the scare came from Allen Crabbe, who had to be carried off the court with a left leg injury. Crabbe later returned after being diagnosed with a bruised leg and played 19 minutes, finishing with eight points.
Portland built its 15 point lead as it took advantage of a sloppy and careless Nets team that had eight turnovers in the first quarter. Brooklyn fought back to tie the game at 55 with 29 seconds left thanks to the three-point shooting of reserve Sean Kilpatrick, who hit all four of his three-point attempts, and the inside play of center Brook Lopez.
Notes: Damian Lillard for the 41st consecutive game made a three-pointer, tying him for the franchise record with Clifford Robinson (1995-1996). It also ties Ersan Ilyasova for the longest streak in the NBA this season … The Blazers announced before the game that center Festus Ezeli will have surgery on his left knee next week in Vail, Colorado. Ezeli, signed to a free agent contract in July, never played for the Blazers. He signed a two-year deal, which paid him $7 million this season. Only $1 million is guaranteed for next season … Evan Turner had the cast on his broken right hand removed Friday and is now fitted with a splint. The Blazers still target Turner for their original 5-to-6 week recovery timeline, which would place his return between March 14-March 21.
Next up: Blazers at Minnesota, 5 p.m. Monday (CSN).