CJ McCollum was heading to the free throw line with 3:31 remaining on the game clock.
At that moment, Meyers Leonard turned to the home crowd and yelled, “come on” with his hands in the air, urging the fans to get on their feet.
The Trail Blazers led 110-91 as the Moda Center crowd rose to their feet and the Blazers along with Leonard rose to the occasion.
Portland defeated Oklahoma City in Game 2 on Tuesday night, 114-94 in what turned out to be a blowout for Portland, thus Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was able to unload his bench in garbage time.
But it wasn’t garbage time minutes for Leonard.
Just like the media, the players, and the fans, the referees also know the bad blood between these two teams and in order to keep the peace, the officials were making sure to call any and all fouls.
Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, or a blocking call, the whistles were being blown. In turn, that meant Blazers starting center Enes Kanter got into early foul trouble. Al-Farouq Aminu and Kanter both had three fouls by halftime.
When Kanter picked up his fourth foul early in the third that made way for Leonard.
“Because Enes picked up his fourth early, we got a few more minutes out of [Meyers] and I thought it was just a good time to have him in there… Good things were happening when he was on the court, so we kept him in,” Coach Stotts said postgame.
“I was happy for him. He brought some great energy,” McCollum said.
But, Leonard rose to the occasion in unexpected way:
On the defensive end.
He challenged Steven Adams down low and was also able to slow down the Thunder guards when he switched onto the smaller players.
“He got a couple of switches, moved his feet well, you know, challenged, got a block that didn’t go, that they called a goaltend, knocked down some jumpers, gave us good spacing, and energy,” McCollum said.
🔨🔨🔨It's Hammer time!!! 🔨🔨🔨 pic.twitter.com/sDTJhPOLFm— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) April 17, 2019
Yes, the Trail Blazers backup center didn’t get that block, even though it looked good, but he did finish the game with the best plus/minus of any bench player for the game with a +17.
In his 14 minutes played, he scored five points and pulled down four rebounds.
“I just played as hard as I could and tried to set screens, go after rebounds and be prepared to shoot, which is the thing I didn’t actually do that well,” Leonard said with a perplexed look.
“I was 2-for-4, but I feel like I should make everyone of them,” Leonard added.
Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, Kanter jumped on Leonard’s back to celebrate the win and Leonard’s performance.
That’s the thing about this team; they care about each other and are happy for their teammates success.
“He’s a guy who is always, you know, jacked up, and a guy who can get the crowd really involved,” McCollum said.
As always for any bench player with inconsistent minutes, staying ready is key.
“My focus and mindset has been to just be ready,” Leonard said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to go in, I’m not sure when I’m gonna go in, but I can tell you one thing -- I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna play friggin’ hard and it felt good to be out there contributing and now we’re up 2-0.”
When Leonard checked back into the game at the 9:36 mark of the fourth quarter for Zach Collins, the Moda Center crowd gave Leonard a loud ovation.
As Rip City fans well know, the fan base has been up and down when it comes to Meyers.
“I’ll be honest I did see a tweet about that, just talking about, I guess, that I had a quote-unquote earned a standing ovation,” Leonard said.
“Whatever that means, it felt good. I’m always gonna give it my all, I can guarantee you guys that... Like I said, it felt good to be out there, playing meaningful minutes, helping us win a playoff game,” Leonard added.
The Trail Blazers now go up 2-0 in the best of seven series. This is the first time Portland has taken a 2-0 advantage since the First Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. The Blazers beat Houston in that series, 4-2.
This series now shifts to OKC and as everyone knows every possession counts in the postseason or as Meyers put it:
“The playoffs is possession basketball.”
Leonard also says he will be ready for extra possessions if they come his way.