SALT LAKE CITY – It may have been CJ McCollum’s 17 fourth quarter points that led the Blazers to come from down 20 points to reach within one point of tying the game against the Jazz Thursday night, but there were two bench players that also came up big.
Down the stretch, Anfernee Simons and Skal Labissiere earned minutes with the starters.
In 28 minutes of work, Simons made every shot he took from inside the arc, going 6-6 from two-point range. He was 1-3 from deep to finish with 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds. He also defended well.
But it was Labissiere’s “terrific” game, as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts deemed it, that should give Blazers fans more hope about the season.
The Blazers started the year with five 7-footers including Labissiere. He’s 6’10”, but we’ll put him in that category.
Two injured big men and three healthy ones – that was how Portland started the season, and that’s when Labissiere was expected to play very limited minutes if at all.
But as we know, that has since changed.
Zach Collins goes out with a shoulder injury, and Pau Gasol decides to step away from the Trail Blazers to focus on his rehab.
And that leads us to Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Labissiere got the fourth quarter nod over Hassan Whiteside. He credits ‘the little things’ to why Stotts gave him crunch minutes.
I just tried to do what I needed to do to help the team. You know, we came up short, but I think out team effort was pretty good. Our guys came in, second unit, and do what we’re supposed to do, bring the energy and just the little things, set good screens, and Dame and CJ were just making shots. -- Trail Blazers backup forward/center Skal Labissiere
It was an off night for a few Trail Blazers on Thursday, including Whiteside, who played just 22 minutes, finishing with eight points and six rebounds in the 121-115 losing effort, ending his double-double streak at 15 games.
Portland’s second unit made it a goal to help their team get back in the game after the Blazers got down by as many as 23 point.
“We talked on the bench, like when we come in, you know, let’s change this,” Labissiere said. “Let’s turn this around, let’s go in and really bring the energy, run the floor hard, and just do what we need to do. So, I think we did a pretty good job of that. Defensively we just brought it and it got us back in the game.”
The 23-year-old finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and three assists.
“Skal was terrific. You know, he’s able to score when there’s opportunities,” Stotts said.
Coach Stotts was not only pleased with Labissiere and Simons’ performance but he said those two along with Gary Trent Jr. all “had an impact on the game.”
Having an impact on the game is what the Blazers will need a lot more of this season when it comes to their second unit.
But, look to Labissiere to continue to do the little things, that he believes will all add up.