For a Trail Blazers team that was thoroughly handled by Milwaukee on Thursday, the best thing to come out of the 103-91 loss was the way Jusuf Nurkic stood up for teammate Meyers Leonard.
Leonard, who entered the game for the first time in the third quarter and the Blazers trailing by 19, was booed by some in the Moda Center crowd after he airballed a three-pointer.
Afterward, Nurkic –unprompted – stood up for Leonard.
“It’s tough when you have fans who boo Meyers for no reason,’’ Nurkic said. “If they boo him, boo everybody. Don’t just boo the guy who just missed a shot. It’s not good. We don’t look good. Overall … I missed a shot. Dame missed a shot. Everybody missed a shot. I think does not deserve to be booed for no reason.’’
Leonard, who has become a lightening rod for fan discontent, finished 1-for-3 from the field and grabbed three rebounds in 8:19 of action.
Leonard was showering when Nurkic made his comments, and when told afterward what Nurkic said, Leonard was moved.
“Honestly, I appreciate Nurk saying something,’’ Leonard said. “That’s huge. I mean, for the people who boo …yeah. Truly, in my down-home country roots, I have some nasty words for those people. But I’m going to keep it professional.’’
Leonard, who is in the second year of a four-year, $41 million deal, has appeared in seven of the Blazers’ 22 games this season, averaging 10 minutes. Earlier this month it looked like he was beginning to carve out a niche off the bench when he had 11 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes against the Kings, then played a game-changing 17 minutes the next game at Memphis when he hit all four of his shots and finished with eight points and four rebounds.
But he played only once since then – a four-minute stint against Philadelphia – until Thursday’s call with the Blazers trailing 76-57. After missing his second shot badly, an audible collection of boos came down – not overwhelming – but enough to be noticed.
“If I’m being dead honest, I guess it’s no surprise,’’ Leonard said of the fans. “It happened at the end of last year.
“But you know, I put in a ton of work this summer and I feel really good about where I’m at as a player. Did I love the situation in which I was put into? No. But that’s part of being a professional, so I have to be ready and I have to take shots that were open,'' Leonard said. "And the fact of the matter is our franchise player threw me the ball for a reason: because I can friggin shoot.''
Leonard after the game appeared unfazed by the crowd reaction and addressed it only after he was told about Nurkic's remarks.
“I’ve made a big jump in terms of tuning the negativity out,'' Leonard said. "Now, do I want to hear it? Of course not. But the one thing I know I can leave the arena knowing is I am working as hard as I can. I do still truly believe that I have a lot to offer.’’