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.