Never bet against the player – in any sport – playing his first game against a team that traded him away. It’s seemingly inevitable that the discarded player will come up big against his former mates.
Ask Kent Bazemore, who stood out for the Trail Blazers Sunday night as Portland captured its first home win of the season with a 124-113 overtime decision over Atlanta.
“A lot of emotion tonight,” Bazemore said after his best performance of the young season at both ends of the court. “Obviously, every guy, once they leave a team is always looking to get back at them. Good to be out there competing against them.”
Bazemore took on a difficult defensive challenge, guarding Hawks’ talented point guard Trae Young and when you look at the points (35) that Young scored, it would appear the Atlanta player got the best of him. But Young went 9-30 from the floor, including 3-13 from three-point range, and had seven turnovers. Bazemore gave him a rough night.
And then on offense, Bazemore, thrust into the starting lineup because of Rodney Hood’s back spasms, scored 13 points – including two three-pointers early in the overtime period that vaulted the Blazers into a big lead – had eight rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
“It was huge,” Damian Lillard said of Bazemore’s effort. “Tonight, he had the assignment with Trae Young and (Young) had the ball in his hands pretty much the whole game – chasing him off screens, finding him in transition – just that type of effort is tough. He was there all night. And down the stretch, he was rewarded for his effort and for him to lock in like that – two big threes. But like I said, I think his effort on the defensive end and him taking that challenge was really big. I think it got his mind into the game and it was perfect. It came against his former team, and in a game that we needed.”
He wasn’t the only Portland player to step up.
The Blazers got 20 points on 8-12 shooting from Anfernee Simons, 23 points from CJ McCollum, who also had eight rebounds, four assists and two steals, and 21 points and 12 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside. Lillard finished with 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists while playing 44 minutes.
Whiteside, never known as a great free-throw shooter, has made big strides in that department this season. And he went to the line to finish off a three point-play with a charity toss that pulled his team within a point with 2:20 to go. Then he hit two more to put the Blazer in front with 1:51 left in the fourth quarter.
“I work on them,” he said simply.
McCollum threw his hands in the air after hitting a three with 1:43 to play in overtime that seemed to ice the game for Portland. It appeared to be a gesture of relief and, after five three-point misses Sunday, the hope that his early shooting struggles are coming to an end.
“I just wanted to see one go in from long range,” he said. “I’m a good shooter, I get a lot of reps, I break down my shot weekly and I get a lot of help from people I work with. I have a lot of faith in myself, so it’s always good to make a shot when it counts.”
Both teams had 10 shots in overtime – Portland made five and Atlanta only two. It wasn’t a pretty win but the Trail Blazers weren’t in any position to worry about appearances.
“Needless to say, we needed that win,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “I thought our guys fought through and found a way to win, however it came. And it didn’t come easy.”