Rodney Hood talked about patience. Zach Collins mentioned energy.
But there was a lot more energy than patience in the Moda Center Thursday night – particularly from Hood and Collins, who earned a special place in Trail Blazer lore with sensational performances that helped win their team an all-expenses-paid trip to Denver to play Sunday for a bigger junket – a trip to the Western Conference finals.
Portland beat the Denver Nuggets 119-108 to knot their best-of-seven series at three games apiece, with Hood and Collins coming off the bench for a combined 39 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
But it was more than the statistics.
Hood came into the postseason with 28 games of previous playoff experience. But in that time he’d made just 38.6 percent of his field goals, including just 23 percent of his three-point attempts. And, in fact, he’d made just 66.7 percent of his free throws.
And last season, he was famously accused of refusing to go into a blowout win for Cleveland in Eastern Conference Finals. Then, in the first round this season, he contributed little in the five-game win over Oklahoma City.
And I guess that’s where the patience comes in.
“The talent has always been there,” said Hood, who had a career-playoff-high 25 points on 8-12 shooting. “It’s just God and the patience. It’s patience – everything isn’t going to happen how you want it to happen.
“Like in life, everybody has a dream. It’s supposed to happen now and last year, I wasn’t playing a lot. And I was kind of down on myself and I just kept working. I knew it would come through. I didn’t know when it would come through, but it did
“I’m just grateful. I didn’t give up on myself and I just kept plugging at it. There’s a lot more basketball to play and I’m happy about that.”
He’s lit up the Nuggets in this series, partially because Denver has chosen to put bigger players on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, leaving a guard, Jamal Murray, on him. Again, Hood talked about patience,.
“Just being patient. In the OKC series I was more of just a spacer,” he said. “Dame and CJ just had a great rhythm. I was more trying to affect winning – playing defense, getting deflections, those type of things.
“This series I got a matchup that I like. I’m real aggressive trying to pick spots I like – take some pressure off Dame and CJ. It’s working out right now. We’ve got one more game to get to the Western Conference Finals.
“We’ve got to keep trying to exploit everything.”
A trade-deadline deal that’s making Neil Olshey look smarter by the day, brought Hood to Portland and it flipped the script for him.
“It’s just been great.,” he said. “Sometimes when you make changes, it’s for the better. You’re around a great group of guys that kind of have a personality just like me – they want to win, good people, the community is great so it just adds to it.
“Give a lot of credit to Coach Stotts and the coaching staff for bringing me in – and to a team that was already third or fourth in the West. It enabled me to be a big part in what we’re doing here. I’m happy to be coming through for them and they’ve been great to me.”
Collins and Hood came into the game less than a minute apart in the first quarter with their team trailing by 10. They played the remainder of the half and helped their team to a 32-20 edge in the second period.
Collins racked up 14 points, four rebounds and five blocked shots and brought his usual snarly attitude into the game with him.
“It’s just his defensive mindset,” said Evan Turner, who didn’t take a shot but had seven rebounds and seven assists.
“He was huge,” Hood said of Collins. “He was huge. He finished around the basket, I don’t know the stat how many shots he changed, blocks, defensively what he did. He’s been a huge part of this whole series with his infectious energy on the defensive end.”
Coach Terry Stotts said, “Well, (Collins) had a big impact on the game. The fact that he was able to impact the game at the defensive end and stay out of foul trouble, it was important for him.
McCollum, who scored 30 points, talked about Hood and Collins. “They were great,” he said. “They’ve been killing this whole series. Rodney’s been exceptional in the midrange, dominating the block, hitting threes. Zach has impeccable timing. He’s going to lead the NBA in blocks in the future for sure. He’s fearless. He’s giving us a different dynamic.”
And that energy…
“That’s my job,” Collins said, “to come in and bring energy off the bench. It’s kind of been my job since I got here.”
Lillard was the steady hand at the controls all night. He hit six of his 13 three-pointers on the way to a team-high 32 points.
And there’s at least one more game to play, Sunday in Denver at a yet-undetermined time. As Lillard looks ahead, he does so with a sense of identity.
“I’m going in there saying I know what this team is capable of,” he said. “I know what I am and who I am as a player and I’m going in there to get the job done.”
Turner had another take on the game:
“I’d take Dame Lillard’s best over a lot of people’s best,” he said. “It’s a player’s league, so I don’t think anybody’s going against that.
“That’s honestly what I think.”