If you wanted to guess which Trail Blazer guard is shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range through the first eight games of the season, it might take you three guesses to get it right.
It’s not Damian Lillard and it’s not CJ McCollum.
But if you watched Anfernee “Ant” Simons go for 16 points in the fourth quarter Thursday night in a 107-101 Portland loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, you’d have the answer. Simons scored all but nine of his team’s 25 points in the fourth quarter while Lillard and McCollum were mysteriously each going 0-4 from the field in a scoreless quarter. For the season, the 20-year-old backup guard has made 31 of 62 shots from the field and 12 of 30 from long range.
The Trail Blazers came close to beating a very good NBA team and played well for only half the game – the second half, when Hassan Whiteside came to life and Simons kept his team in the game in the final period.
“Shots weren’t falling for me in the first half,” Simons said. “I wanted to come out in the second half and be aggressive and be who I am. I saw a couple of shots go in and it got me in a groove.”
Coach Terry Stotts stayed with him and his teammates began to look for him.
“It gave me a lot of confidence to know they believe in me,” Simons said.
Forced into small lineups, the Trail Blazers were pounded 60-40 in the paint and could have made up for it with just a few more three-point field goals. But Portland managed to go just 11-39 from three-point range, with Lillard and McCollum combining to go 4-16.
Simons played 19:24 of the 24 minutes after halftime and combined with Whiteside to score 21 of Portland’s 25 points in the final quarter.
“He was huge,” Lillard said of Simons. “It was good to see him having that type of moment in a close game. He was hitting big shots. He was aggressive. He kind of just embraced being on the floor in that time of the game. He played really well, especially in that stretch.”
Stotts echoed the praise.
“I thought Anfernee played terrific,” he said. “He made shots when we needed them. That was a bright spot.”
The Blazers, who used Lillard 38:08 and McCollum 39:33 in an effort to beat the Clippers must return to Portland to play the Brooklyn Nets Friday in Moda Center.