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Jusuf Nurkic: ‘I didn’t want to play’ Saturday after grandmother dies

Jusuf Nurkic grandmother

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 15: Jusuf Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first quarter in the Western Conference play-in game one at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Just as the seeding games were tipping off in the NBA’s restart bubble a couple of weeks ago, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic told reporters his grandmother was in a coma due to COVID-19.

Saturday morning, just hours before tip-off of the first play-in game, Nurkic took to Instagram to announce his grandmother’s death.

Coach Terry Stotts said the Blazers held a moment of silence as a team in her honor before the game, but Nurkic admitted after Portland’s dramatic win he didn’t want to play (hat tip Ben Golliver of the Washington Post).

“I didn’t want to play. She made me play, I guess... I already came [to the bubble], all those decisions to stay here, be with the team, so I think she wanted me to play. I’m glad we win and we’re in the playoffs, what we came for.”

Nurkic talked about his grandmother, her condition, and urged people to take the coronavirus seriously back at the end of July.

“I want to say something for the record. The reason we’re here is the pandemic. I think people take for granted what’s going on out there in the world. Last couple days were the hardest days of my life. My grandma got COVID. She’s in the hospital. She’s in a coma. I think people don’t realize this s*** is real out there.”

Nurkic hadn’t played since March 2019 due to a severe leg injury, but back on the court at the Orlando restart he had been a critical part of Portland’s resurgence. Saturday he played with a heavy heart but dominated stretches of the first half. Memphis’ defensive strategy was to trap Damian Lillard and take the ball out of his hands, daring anyone else to beat them. Nurkic did. He had 15 points and 17 rebounds at the half, on his way to 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, plus 21 rebounds.

With the win, the Trail Blazers are in the playoff and off until Tuesday, when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game of their series.