The Trail Blazers 2018-19 season has been emotional, to say the least.
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching moment was when Portland lost Jusuf Nurkic to a season-ending leg injury on March 26th.
The Blazers big man was averaging career-highs of 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and one steal to go along with 1.4 blocks.
A career-season ended too quickly.
But Nurkic was determined to not let his team’s season end prematurely too.
No, it was not do-or-die for the Blazers on Tuesday night as Portland held a 3-1 lead in the series over the Thunder, but for Nurk he was eager for his teammates to take care of business at home.
That’s why the big fella drove himself to Moda Center during the third quarter to show up for his team when they needed him the most.
“It meant a lot. I had seen him earlier today; he was at the practice facility. He was getting a lift in and some rehab. I was like, 'when you gonna come to a game?’ He was like, ‘I’m not ready yet,’ so, when I looked and saw him I was like, man it must’ve looked bad on TV for him to leave his house in the middle of third quarter and drive all the way out here,” CJ McCollum joked postgame.
With 3:28 remaining in the game, Nurkic made an appearance on the Trail Blazers bench.
Damian Lillard had been having a phenomenal game, with a franchise record 32 points in the first half, yet the Blazers trailed 113-105 when the Bosnian Beast showed up.
The jumbotron was quick to show Nurk’s presence on the bench.
Moda Center erupted.
Jusuf Nurkic!!! pic.twitter.com/sEYSIcRwel— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) April 24, 2019
“I was in pain watching the game,” Nurkic joked with Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd on the NBC Sports broadcast after the game. “By the end of the third quarter, I was like f*** it, excuse my French, I’m gonna go out there and show up and I knew if I showed up, we were going to win this game. I had zero doubt.”
Nurkic was right.
“Obviously I love this crowd and this city… I knew if I showed up, I was gonna make a difference,” Nurkic continued.
But the question on the Blazers’ minds was -- how did Nurk’s stats finish up?
“I would love to see what his plus/minus was tonight,” Lillard said with a smile.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts also wanted to figure out what Nurkic’s plus/minus was for the final three minutes of play.
“We were down eight… So, plus 11… So, his plus/minus was really good. Honestly, you guys know it, you felt it in the building when they showed him on the big screen and the fact that he showed up, no one knew he was going to show up, honestly I think we fed off of that. I think there was a little good karma when he did show up,” Stotts said.
Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder, summed up Nurk being on the bench by simply saying, “he’s our inspiration.”
Nurkic had said during the regular season after the Blazers were swept by OKC, that he wished he would get to see the Thunder in the playoffs.
Tuesday night he got his wish in person and the Blazers knew they had to win this game for him, and for themselves, to not extend the series.
“When I seen him, I was like we really got to come together and get this done so we don’t have to go back to Oklahoma,” McCollum said.
“I think they put a camera on him and the crowd went crazy. I heard it. So, he gave us a nice punch,” Lillard said.
The Bosnian Beast brought just enough “punch” to help his team get over the hump.
Lillard brought the knockout with his game winning three-pointer.
The Blazers now advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the 12th time in franchise history and the first time since 2016.
Nurkic, who often refers to Lillard as ‘Babo,’ which means ‘fatherly figure’ in Bosnian, was like a proud son watching his dad rise up on Paul George and knock down the ‘Logo’ three.
Babo had himself a game.
Nurkic saved the day, just in time.
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