TORONTO – If you’re going to take a last-second shot to win a game and you’re the Portland Trail Blazers, who do you go to?
Damian Lillard is the obvious choice. But what if the other team double-teams him and makes it impossible to get him the ball?
Then you go to CJ McCollum, right? Well, that’s what the Trail Blazers did Tuesday night against the Raptors, with the scored tied at 99 and the clock ticking down past 10 seconds.
McCollum took an inbound pass and had a lane to the basket. An open lane, he figured. But knowing it wouldn’t be right to take his shot too early on the clock, he held back – a smart move by a mature player.
Suddenly, Carmelo Anthony popped open near the top of the three-point circle and McCollum found him with a pass.
Melo with the ball and a chance to win the game? That’s money, folks. Look it up. It’s not this guy’s first rodeo.
Since 2003-2004, according to STATS Inc., he’s been the best in the NBA at hitting shots in the final 30 seconds of a game to give his team a lead for good. He’s done it 26 times, better than Kobe Bryant (22), LeBron James (20), Dirk Nowitzki (18) and Dwyane Wade (16).
You want it done in the final five seconds? According to ESPN Stats and Information, he's done that 17 times, four more than any other player since he came into the league.
“It was very important for us to come back on the road,” Anthony said. “We were able to get stops and make shots. A big morale booster for us.
“This is something I’ve always embraced, loved those moments. Whenever you get a chance to have those moments you have to take advantage of it. Throughout my career I’ve always been the guy who would take those shots. I’ve made a ton of them and missed a lot of them, as well. You just have to be willing, to want to take them.”
Anthony was able to get to his spot on the floor, a jump shot that was a virtual free throw. It’s a shot you can see him practicing over and over before games.
“I was able to get to my spot and it felt good,” he said. “Very important to get to my spot. Only thing I didn‘t want to do is settle, settle for that three. Once I was able to get to my spot, there was a great chance of that ball going in.”
The Blazers and Raptors – two teams playing without some of their best players – stumbled around a lot in this game but the Blazers really were tested. If there was a night for them to just give up on a game, this would have been it. For most of the first half they couldn’t make shots and couldn’t get defensive stops. It was a frustrating night, given that the Blazers’ first and only lead prior to Anthony’s game-winner lasted 14 seconds and made the score 4-3.
“We gave up 22 in the third and 21 in the fourth and we started to limit their second chances,” Lillard said. “The way we did it is the style we need to play to win us games.”
The Raptors specialize in playing defense that takes the opponent’s best player out of the game and they got it done over the first three quarters, throwing multiple players at Lillard. But in the fourth, he was able to get more room by getting a pick set higher and making his threes from longer distance.
“I just played from further out,” he said. “I didn’t want to force it and play in a crowd. I had to change my pace, get the screen set higher. And we also got stops so we weren’t playing against a set defense.”
Lillard played a key role in forcing a Toronto turnover, as Patrick McCaw threw a pass between Kyle Lowry’s legs and out of bounds.
“Kyle was coming off a pin down and I saw it developing,” Lillard said. “They were trying to catch us off guard. I shot the gap and the guy threw a bounce pass and Kyle was running through it and didn’t have a chance to catch it. A big play.”
Portland had to survive a last-second three from Kyle Lowry but it was a miss and the Blazers had the win.
To be fair, the Raptors were playing without injured Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet, among others. Of course, the Blazers – without Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere – have no sympathy for them.
This trip concludes with a game Thursday night at Minneapolis against the Timberwolves.