Jamie Hudson

Jusuf Nurkic emotional in win over Nets, finds some closure from leg injury

Jusuf Nurkic emotional in win over Nets, finds some closure from leg injury

The Trail Blazers 2019-20 season was on the line Thursday night.

And it all came down to the final shot.

Fortunately for Portland, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, who had already scored 37 points on 16-for-29 shooting, dribbled the clock down in the fourth quarter with the Nets trailing by one, but his jumper clanked off the back of the rim. Carmelo Anthony secured the rebound. 

And with that the Blazers won 134-133.  

That was a crazy finish, to say the least.

But before Portland’s season literally hung in the air in Orlando -- there were bodies flying.

To say the Trail Blazers left it all out on the floor seems like an understatement.

Portland’s dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic rose to the occasion; or dove to the occasion, in this case.  

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed, advance to play-in games vs. Memphis Grizzlies 

It was obvious watching their effort in the fourth quarter, that they were not ready to go home.

The Trail Blazers were a big fan of Nurkic sacrificing his body in crunch time, just as Nurkic is a “big fan” of being in Orlando.

He's postgame hashtag confirmed it. 

There were two specific plays that Blazers head coach Terry Stotts pointed to as key possessions for his team Thursday. And one of them was Nurkic sprawling out on the floor, with 1:28 to go in the game, to save the ball from spinning out of bounds on the baseline after a bad pass by Joe Harris down low.

That extra effort was on display in the Blazers’ locker room postgame. 

The two things we showed in the locker room after the game was Nurk diving on the floor under two minutes, Dame diving on the floor and those are the things that we have to do to win games… and those two plays made the difference. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts

Nurkic at 7’0” and 290 pounds plummeted to the floor to give the Blazers an extra possession and to prove once again that he wants to continue to play the game he loves – the game that was taken away from him following his gruesome leg injury in March of 2019 against who else, but the Brooklyn Nets.

Facing the team that ran away from Nurkic once they witnessed the status of his broken left leg in the game on Mar. 25, 2019, meant Thursday’s win wasn’t just a relief to move on and secure a play-in spot, it also took its toll on Nurk’s psyche.    

This game might be a little bit emotional for me because I got hurt against them at Moda. But, like I said... LaVert is a great player, had a great game. I think we get the best of him tonight. Give them credit, what they did, what they tried to did. But, I think we did a hell of a job to win the game… Obviously, we couldn’t get rebounds [in the] last couple of possessions, but, like I said – it wasn’t meant to be for them. We got a win, that’s all that matters. -- Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic

It closed the loop.

Nurkic also described the play of him diving on the ground for the steal from Harris, saying, “whatever it takes,” which has also been Damian Lillard’s motto through all eight of these seeding games.

[RELATED]: Unstoppable Damian Lillard provokes NSFW reaction from Nets Joe Harris 

It was with 1:12 remaining in the game when Lillard sacrificed his body, hitting the deck and snatching the ball from LeVert which led to the go-ahead 21-foot pull-up jumper from CJ McCollum to put the Blazers up 134-130.

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love].

The bottom line is, the Blazers came up with stops when they absolutely needed them Thursday night. 

Portland’s defense has been suspect in the NBA restart; however, the Blazers’ team captain explained how coming up with timely stops meant easier buckets down the stretch.

“Once we got those stops, we was able to get to the rim, get fouled, get a few easier looks and then get ourselves back into the game, and then I think once we cut it to like, four, and we settled in, we got a stop and they were being aggressive and I just, I felt the guy chasing me over the screen and I just rose up and we got the three free throws… Once we got to that point, I was like – now it’s just a matter of who is gonna make the big plays down the stretch, who is going to do just a little bit more, and who wants it more, we was able to do that,” Lillard said.

Lillard once again led the charge Thursday night. He made 13-of-22 shots, including 8-of-14 from deep, to finish with 42 points. He also dished out 12 assists.

As for Nurkic, he finished with 22 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three rebounds in 33 minutes of action.

Heading into the final seeding game, Nurkic was averaging 17.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 41 assists in 31.4 minutes of work.

That's a lot of minutes for a big fella just returning from a big injury. 

Nurkic mentioned after the win that he has been surprised at how good his conditioning has been in the seeding games after not having played in a game for more than 14 months.

“My shape – I was surprised by the way I was playing. My shape is surprisingly good enough to play those minutes,” Nurkic said.

Now as the No. 8 seeded Blazers prepare for Saturday's play-in game against No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers are making sure to get in some recovery time. 

“Trying get a cold tub right now," Nurkic joked. "Have ice all over me. Try to get rest as I can, that’s all I can do, right?” 

Yep, bring on the ice and then... Bring on, the Grizzlies.

Instant Analysis: Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed in shocking fashion

Instant Analysis: Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed in shocking fashion

It wasn't easy. 

The Trail Blazers and Nets traded baskets for most of the night Thursday. At the end of the first quarter, the game was all tied up at 31.

It was clear from the jump, the Nets wanted to play spoiler since Brooklyn had already locked up the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference before Thursday’s game.

Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum, who has reportedly been playing with a fractured back since Portland’s first seeding game, didn’t look like he was playing with pain as he found success from mid-range and at the rim. McCollum had a quick 12 points in the first quarter.  

As for Nets shooting guard, Caris Levert, who has been hot in the Orlando bubble and was averaging 18.3 points heading into Thursday’s game, was in a groove against the Trail Blazers. Levert finished with 37 points. 

The Nets shot 59.1 percent from the floor in the first half, but still trailed at halftime.

Portland led 73-67 at the break in big thanks to the Blazers backcourt duo of McCollum and Damian Lillard. The two combined for 35-first-half-points. Portland also dominated on the boards in the first half, outrebounding Brooklyn, 25-15.

As many NBA teams do, the Nets defended Lillard with two players blitzing him in hopes of forcing someone other than the Trail Blazers All-Star point guard to get buckets. Portland did get scoring from others, but the problem for the Blazers was that Brooklyn had six players in double figures. 

Lillard and McCollum played the entire second half and Portland needed it.

Once again, the Blazers' final seeding game came down to the wire after the Nets outscored Portland, 37-24, in the third to take a 104-97 lead heading into the fourth.

Between Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and Carmelo Anthony's efforts in the fourth quarter, the Blazers left it all out on the floor and are now staying in Orlando.  

Just a reminder, the first Western Conference play-in game will tip-off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.   

FINAL BOX SCORE: TRAIL BLAZERS 134, NETS 133

Here are three quick takeaways from Portland's eighth and final seeding game from our NBC Sports NW team:

Dwight Jaynes, Insider:   

 

Jamie Hudson, Reporter

The Blazers didn’t make it easy on themselves after allowing the Nets to see the ball go through the net early and often. You’ve got to give credit to the Nets throwing everything they had at Damian Lillard. Brooklyn definitely didn’t make it easy for Lillard and the Blazers. BUT, this Portland squad wanted this win more than anything and when Lillard is determined, nobody should ever bet against him. 

Mike Richman, Reporter

Did this one feel familiar? An opponent scored at will. The Blazers were bad in third quarter. And Damian Lillard was really special. That seems to be the script for these. See you Saturday.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon:]

Up Next: As the No. 8 seed the Trail Blazers will face the No. 9 seed Grizzlies in the first play-in game this Saturday at 11:30a.m. PST.

Also, be sure to check back throughout the rest of the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed, advance to play-in games vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed, advance to play-in games vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Blazers playing on in the play-in! 

And, that was a close one.

But where there’s a Damian Lillard, there’s a way!

Now that the Trail Blazers beat the Brooklyn Nets, 134-133, Thursday night, Portland is now the No. 8-seed and will face the No. 9-seed Grizzlies in the first play-in game Saturday at 11:30a.m. PT.

Being the eight seed means Portland will need to win just one of the play-in games to advance to the playoffs.

[RELATED-- Instant Analysis: Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed in shocking fashion]

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

In Thursday’s victory, Lillard finished with 42 points and 12 assists despite the Nets throwing two defenders at him a majority of the game.

If the Blazers had lost Thursday’s game, they would be heading home and the season would be over.

But now Portland’s sights are set on beating the Grizzlies Saturday to secure their playoff spot.

The Western Conference First Round playoffs will begin Tuesday evening against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Be sure to check back throughout the rest of the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players.

Check back for more updates from postgame!

Report: CJ McCollum suffered back injury in first NBA restart game vs. Memphis

Report: CJ McCollum suffered back injury in first NBA restart game vs. Memphis

The Trail Blazers are playing in a ‘win or go home’ game Thursday night against the Brooklyn Nets.

One concern heading into Thursday’s game has been the health of Blazers starting shooting guard CJ McCollum. 

On Tuesday, NBCSNW Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes reported McCollum had suffered a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced). It was first reported that McCollum suffered the injury in Portland’s fourth seeding game against Denver.

However, during Thursday’s Blazers and Nets game on TNT, sideline reporter and NBA Insider from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that McCollum suffered the back injury on July 31 in Portland’s first seeding game.  

 

Sources informed me McCollum actually suffered the injury in the first game of the Restart against Memphis when he dove for a loose ball and was kneed in the back by Jaren Jackson. He has been treated daily. --  Chris Haynes on CJ McCollum

 

According to Haynes, McCollum told him, ‘I’m not worried now. I can worry about it in the offseason.’

McCollum had just 8 points in the Blazers 134-131 win over Dallas Tuesday before the news broke, shooting just 2-14 from the field. He did sink two clutch free throws in the final seconds of Tuesday’s game. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

[RELATED]: Injured or not, Damian Lillard believes in CJ McCollum

McCollum is off to a hot start against the Brooklyn Nets Thursday. McCollum scored 12 points in Portland’s do or die game. 

Portland leads Brooklyn, 73-67, at the break. 

Check out the second half action between the Blazers and Nets on NBCSNW right now. 

Carmelo Anthony earns 2019-20 Maurice Lucas Award

Carmelo Anthony earns 2019-20 Maurice Lucas Award

The Portland Trail Blazers announced Thursday before the Blazers and Nets tipped off in their final seeding game, that Carmelo Anthony has been named the recipient of the 2019-20 Maurice Lucas Award.

The award was presented to Anthony in Orlando by Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts.

In the team’s press release, Olshey said, “Carmelo’s selfless attitude and leadership on and off the court make him an ideal recipient of this year’s Maurice Lucas Award,” while President & CEO of the Trail Blazers, Chris McGowan added, “Carmelo is an authentic leader both on and off the court and truly embodies what the Maurice Lucas award is about. His experience, knowledge, leadership and authenticity have been the perfect addition to the Trail Blazers and the city of Portland.”

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

The annual Maurice Lucas Award was created in the 2010-11 season to “honor the Trail Blazers player who best represents the indomitable spirit of Maurice Lucas through his contributions on the court and in the community, as well as in support of his teammates and the organization.”

Melo has selected the Social Change Fund for the Trail Blazers to make a $5,000 donation to the organization in recognition of the award.

In his 17th season, Anthony signed with the Trail Blazers back on November 19, 2019. The 36-year-old is averaging 15.5 points (43.1% FG, 38.7% 3-PT, 84.5% FT), 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 57 games (all starts). Anthony (26,437 career points) has moved up to 15th on the NBA all-time scoring list this season and ranks second among active players in career scoring.

Melo has made a huge impact both and off the court for the Blazers this season. In the NBA restart, he is averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. 

Former Trail Blazers All-Star Maurice Lucas passed away on October 31, 2010 at the age of 58. A beloved member of the franchise and Rip City. "The Enforcer" was a central figure on the Trail Blazers' 1976-77 NBA Championship team. Portland retired Lucas’ No. 20 on November 4, 1988.

PREVIOUS MAURICE LUCAS AWARD WINNERS

  • 2018-19 – Jusuf Nurkic
  • 2017-18 – Evan Turner
  • 2016-17 – Al-Farouq Aminu
  • 2015-16 – Ed Davis
  • 2014-15 – LaMarcus Aldridge
  • 2013-14 – Robin Lopez
  • 2012-13 – Damian Lillard
  • 2011-12 – Wesley Matthews
  • 2010-11 – LaMarcus Aldridge

Eye on the 8: It's win or go home for Trail Blazers

Eye on the 8: It's win or go home for Trail Blazers

It all comes down to Thursday evening.

And then it will come down to this weekend’s play-in games, but more on that later.

Now that the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 119-106, AND the Phoenix Suns took down the Dallas Mavericks, 128-102, earlier today, the Portland Trail Blazers will need to win their game versus the Brooklyn Nets to secure a spot in the play-in games this weekend.

Yes, Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is going to have his chance to shine Thursday night as he has been discussing the reality of the Blazers reaching the No. 8 seed in the West and that he didn’t want his team to come to Orlando for the NBA restart and waste their time.

Portland and Brooklyn tip-off at 6:00p.m. PT on NBCSNW.

If the Blazers win, they’ll be the No. 8-seed and will face the No. 9-seed Grizzlies in the first play-in game Saturday at 11:30a.m. PT.

Being the eight seed means Portland would need to win just one of the play-in games to advance to the playoffs.

If the Trail Blazers lose Thursday night, their season will be over as they will finish in the 10th or 11th seed out West depending on the result of the San Antonio Spurs-Utah Jazz game, which is being played as this article was written.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

It all comes down to this…

Watch Thursday’s Blazers-Nets game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers with tip-off set for 6:00pm. Our coverage starts at 4:30pm with ‘Blazers Game Day’ followed by ‘Blazers Warm-up’ at 5:00p.m. and ‘Blazers Pregame’ at 5:30pm.

Plus, to wrap up a Blazers Game Day, check out ‘Blazers Outsiders’ immediately following the 'Blazers Postgame Show.'

Or if you can’t get to a TV, stream the game on our website or by downloading the MyTeams app!

Plus, for full coverage of Portland’s eighth and final seeding game make sure to follow Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team throughout the day. Follow us on social for the latest updates. 

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard is making sure Blazers' Disney World trip isn't a 'waste of time' 

[RELATED]: CJ McCollum, playing with fracture in lower back, hits 2 free throws to seal win 

[RELATED]: Move over, Wilt Chamberlain -- make room for Damian Lillard in 60-point club 

How to Watch & Stream Blazers vs. Nets at 6pm

How to Watch & Stream Blazers vs. Nets at 6pm

It all comes down to the final seeding games in the West.

Which two teams will be playing this weekend in the play-in games and which team will be the No. 8 seed heading into Saturday's game?

We will know Thursday night.  

Heading into the final day of seeding games, four teams are within a half-game of each other for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

8. Portland Trail Blazers | Remaining schedule: Brooklyn (Win Percentage: 0.465)

9. Memphis Grizzlies (0.5 games behind)| Remaining Schedule: Milwaukee (Win Percentage: 0.458) 

10. Phoenix Suns (0.5 games behind)| Remaining schedule: Dallas (Win Percentage: 0.458) 

11. San Antonio Spurs (0.5 games behind)| Remaining schedule: Utah (Win Percentage: 0.457) 

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has put his team on his back with the Blazers eyeing the No. 8 seed. Portland has sole possession of the eighth spot following the Blazers’ 131-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday in which Lillard dazzled.

The Blazers point guard finished with 61 points. He hit 17 of his 32 shots, went 9-of-17 from three-point range and made all 18 of his free throws.

And now it all comes down to Thursday’s battle of games in the Western Conference.

You can catch Thursday’s Blazers-Nets game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers with tip-off set for 6:00pm. Our coverage starts at 4:30pm with ‘Blazers Game Day’ followed by ‘Blazers Warm-up’ at 5:00p.m. and ‘Blazers Pregame’ at 5:30pm.

Plus, to wrap up a Blazers Game Day, check out ‘Blazers Outsiders’ immediately following the 'Blazers Postgame Show.'

Or if you can’t get to a TV, stream the game on our website or by downloading the MyTeams app!

Trail Blazers vs. Nets is also available for a one-time purchase of $4.99 via "Blazers Pass."

Plus, for full coverage of Portland’s eighth and final seeding game make sure to follow Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team throughout the day. Follow us on social for the latest updates. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast as special guest Bill Walton joins hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon]: 

  

Injury Reports:

The Nets have listed Chris Chiozza (right adductor; tightness) and Donta Hall (right ankle; sprain) as questionable, while Jamal Crawford (left hamstring; strain) is out for Thursday's game vs. the Blazers. 

For the Blazers, Nassir Little (dehydration) is out for Thursday's game.

Quote of the Week:  

 Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to Tuesday's game against the Mavericks that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman's terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

Following Tuesday’s win, Damian Lillard discussed his confidence and appreciation for McCollum playing through pain when the Blazers need him as they make their final playoff push:  

He’s a little bit banged up. He’s making no excuses or looking for no way out. He’s thuggin' it out for the team and being out there for us, and fortunate for us, him doing that meant he was out there for those last free throws and came through for us. -- Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard on CJ McCollum

Top Game Notes: 

  • All-Time: Trail Blazers lead, 64-25
     
  • Thursday's game will be the second of two meetings between the Trail Blazers and the Nets during the 2019-20 season. Brooklyn leads the season series, 1-0.
     
  • Last Meeting: The Nets defeated the Trail Blazers in Portland on Nov. 8, 119-115. Damian Lillard scored what was then a franchise-record 60 points (19-33 FG, 7-16 3-PT, 15-15 FT) to go with four rebounds and five assists in the loss. Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with 34 points (12-27 FG, 4-8 3-PT, 5-5 FT), five rebounds, four assists and a steal in 35 minutes of the bench.
     
  • Damian Lillard has scored at least 31 points in three of his last four games against the Nets. He has topped 30 points in six of his 15 career games against Brooklyn.
     
  • In his last four games against the Nets, Jusuf Nurkic has averaged 27.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.75 blocks.
     
  • CJ McCollum was held to eight points (4-19 FG) and five rebounds in the Nov. 8 meeting. • Joe Harris scored 14 points (5-12 FG, 2-4 3-PT, 2-2 FT) to go with five rebounds, one assist and one block against Portland on Nov. 8.

----

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard is making sure Blazers' Disney World trip isn't a 'waste of time' 

[RELATED]: CJ McCollum, playing with fracture in lower back, hits 2 free throws to seal win 

Instant Analysis: Damian Lillard ties career-high in points, Blazers move to No. 8 in West

Breaking down NBA playoff scenarios for the 8th Seed in the Western Conference

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard believes his late cousin, Chef B, is looking after him  

[RELATED]: Move over, Wilt Chamberlain -- make room for Damian Lillard in 60-point club 

 

 

Big Z's bubble: There's no limit to who Zach Collins will trash talk

Big Z's bubble: There's no limit to who Zach Collins will trash talk

It's time to get the latest scoop from the NBA Bubble with Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins! 

There’s no doubt Zach Collins has been the biggest Bubble source for us here at NBC Sports Northwest.

Over the past few weeks, the Trail Blazers 7-footer has taken us on a tour of the team’s hotel’s pop-up barbershop and given us a look at how the NBA is keeping the Blazers fed! Plus, we’ve learned a lot more about Collins as well.

With this being the final week of seeding games for the Trail Blazers, it also means it's the last week of 'Big Z’s Bubble' features. Zach has been answering the best questions from social media -- live from Orlando.

This week's questions are top notch. Good work once again, Rip City! 

Avolon on Instagram wanted to know: Who has better style – Zach Collins or Jususf Nurkic?

Sure, nobody will be surprised by Collins’ answer in the video above, but just wait until you hear that confidence in his voice while answering this question!  

[RELATED]: Zach Collins still gets hate mail from Warriors fans after run-in with Klay Thompson

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon]:

Also, here’s a SPOILER ALERT for GONZAGA FANS:  

Collins and his fellow Gonzaga alumni have been getting together to have dinner in the bubble.

RipCity on Twitter asked: How often do you hang out with players from other teams?

There’s a lot of Zags in the bubble… We’ve been to a couple of dinners with each other. We’ve done that. But besides that, I haven’t’ really hung out with too many people in the bubble. It’s mostly just been my teammates… But definitely the Zags – we’ve gotten together a couple of times. That’s awesome – seeing people you played with and then talking with people who have been in the Gonzaga program and have had different experiences, and sharing those stories with each other is pretty cool. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins

Thanks to Plata B on Instagram we now have a better understanding of Zach’s trash talking game after Collins answered this question:

Is there anyone in the league you won’t talk trash to?

Short answer: NO.

Long answer:

I’m not a guy who goes out of my way to talk trash. I think that kind of gets me out of focus on what’s going on. I think my play needs to do the talking. BUT, if a player comes at me or if I feel like they’re taking cheap shots at me, we’re gonna have a conversation, for sure. And that stuff just gets me going… There’s not a limit of who I go at, if they go at me. -- Zach Collins

P.S. – We also learn more about Big Z being a big fan of LaMarcus Aldridge.

Yep, this is a fun-filled 'Big Z’s Bubble !' You can check out the final installment of ‘Big Z’s Bubble’ right here or you can also watch the video above.

And be sure to catch Collins and the Trail Blazers Thursday night on the official network of the Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest! Coverage starts at 4:30p.m. with 'Blazers Game Day' followed by 'Blazers Warm-up' at 5:00p.m. and 'Blazers Pregame' at 5:30p.m. And then it's the Blazers vs. the Brooklyn Nets at 6:00p.m.

Don't miss a second of the action on NBCSNW or by downloading the MyTeams App to live stream the game.

Damian Lillard believes his late cousin, Chef B, is looking after him

Damian Lillard believes his late cousin, Chef B, is looking after him

The tragic news came in early May of this year, during Portland’s Stay at Home Order, when Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard found out that his cousin had passed away.  

Lillard announced the passing of Brandon Johnson, better known as Chef B, on his Instagram on May 2, 2020.

As the Trail Blazers point guard has found ways to cope with his cousin's death, he also knows that his former personal chef, good friend and family member is still with him.

And on Aug. 11, 2020, Lillard believed his beloved cousin made an appearance to help knock in what looked like the best and craziest shooter’s touch of a long three-pointer.

When I let it go I shot it real straight. I was like ‘Well that’s on line’ and I thought it was gonna go in, so when it hit back rim and went straight up -- I kept watching because I was like ‘I think that that’s gonna go in,’ and it dropped in. I think that was my cousin, rest in peace Chef B -- I think that was him dropping that in for me. – Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard

Johnson served as the personal chef to Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and former Trail Blazers forward Evan Turner.  

Lillard and McCollum have shared many moments together after the passing of Chef B.

Lillard explained after Tuesday's win over Dallas that during that difficult time of finding out his cousin had passed away, McCollum and Lillard cried together. 

“He passed during the quarantine in Portland,” Lillard said postgame. “He was going to be coming to my house to make breakfast and passed out and we was all worried so I just went over to see what was going on and when I got there he had just passed. I was able to get there and say my goodbyes. He jut laid there and they kinda put him in a peaceful place… We prayed over his body and said our goodbyes. CJ came, he was tight with CJ as well. Me and CJ, we cried together you know what I’m saying? And that’s also part of our brotherhood. All it done, the quarantine, even at the end of the season when we were pushing to get into the playoffs, you know, he was the one person I was with everyday”.

And now we know Chef B is still with Lillard in Orlando.

That insane three-pointer with a little help from Chef B in the Blazers’ 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks, marked Lillard’s 61st point of the game, tying his career-high, which in turn helped his team take sole possession of the No. 8 seed out West.

As the Blazers make their final push for the playoffs, Lillard continues to keep his cousin’s words with him.

“He was encouraging me, ‘Cuz you gotta eat healthy foods, you gotta make sure you get this in, make sure you get breakfast before you leave, make sure you stay hydrated -- I brought some waters in here, take these waters to the room.’ He was just the person that was on top of a lot of things for me and wore a lot of hats for me. In the summertime when I go to Utah for three weeks too train at school, when I go to Phoenix to train for weeks he was [my] right hand man. Everything I needed -- he did for me basically. Losing him it hurt. He was my first cousin that was that close to me that passed away. So it was tough and I just try to continue what I feel he would want me to do, and I’ve just been dealing with it that way, just try to continue on the path that I know he was proud of.

After scoring 61 points for the second time this season, there’s no doubt Lillard has made Chef B and all of Rip City proud. 

 

Injured or not, Damian Lillard believes in CJ McCollum

Injured or not, Damian Lillard believes in CJ McCollum

It wasn’t talked about-- Because CJ McCollum doesn’t want to use playing through pain as an excuse in the NBA restart.

But, now we know that McCollum, who has averaged just 12 points in Portland’s last two seeding games and went 2-for-14 from the field Tuesday night, is playing through some serious pain.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to Tuesday's game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman's terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

 

Despite McCollum’s rough shooting night against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday and his injured back, the Trail Blazers starting shooting guard hit two clutch free throws to put the Blazers up three with 3.9 seconds to go. 

Damian Lillard had all the confidence in the world that McCollum would have ice in his veins at the charity stripe late in Tuesday’s game. But that's because Lillard always has confidence in his backcourt mate, no matter what.

One thing that is a part of our relationship and something that makes us have so much belief in each other is -- he knows that I have unwavering confidence [in him] and I know the same thing about him. I know his heart. I know his toughness. I know who he is as a man. -- Trail Blazers Damian Lillard

Lillard’s confidence and appreciation for McCollum playing through pain when the Blazers need him as they make their final playoff push is yet another layer of the duo’s special relationship. 

He’s a little bit banged up. He’s making no excuses or looking for no way out. He’s thuggin' it out for the team and being out there for us, and fortunate for us, him doing that meant he was out there for those last free throws and came through for us. -- Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard on CJ McCollum

Following McCollum’s free throws to push the Blazers lead to 134-131, which would eventually be the final, the win helped propel the Blazers into taking sole possession of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Lillard who took responsibility for last Saturday’s loss after missing two free throws with 18.6 seconds to play against the Clippers and his team down by a point and the game on the line, so there was no surprise here – Lillard wanted a chance to drain the final free throws of Tuesday’s game. 

But he knew if it wasn’t himself heading to the line, he wanted his next best choice: CJ McCollum.

“In that situation I was like, it’s my opportunity to make up for the free throws last time, so I’m going to try to break to the ball,” Lillard said. “But I saw how they set up their defense and they was gonna try to deny me, and I went up to [CJ] before the referee handed the ball over and I said, ‘if I can’t get the ball, you have to get the ball' and he did that and he made the free throws. I don’t expect anything different from him.”  

And clearly, McCollum expects a lot of himself to play through a fractured back. And not only play through it, but also still average 39 minutes per game with the injury.

To Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony, McCollum’s ability to continue to fight through the injury, has Melo dubbing McCollum as a true warrior.  

“CJ’s a warrior. We know he’s a little banged up. We know he’s out there also giving everything that he got and he’s in the fight with us. He’s there. We appreciate every little thing that he’s capable of giving us at this moment until he get his situation right. So, we’ve just got to rally with him, help him through it… He’s shown a different type of toughness right now.”

It’s a toughness that only the Blazers knew about for the past four days, but really, it’s a toughness or even more so, a determination and testament to not let his teammates down that McCollum has had his entire career, just ask Lillard.