Trail Blazers

CJ McCollum's playoff magic raises the Blazers NBA Finals chances

Trail Blazers

The biggest stars shine on the brightest stage. 

In other words, prepare yourself for some unbelievable shooting performances from CJ McCollum this postseason, because it's become an annual tradition at this point. 

Whether he's upsetting Duke as a No. 15 seed, dropping 40 points as an eight seed, or sending his team to the Western Conference Finals, McCollum's silky-smooth offensive artillery shines in the postseason.

"Obviously, people are going to remember Game 7 on the road, hitting big shots, getting chase-down blocks, and things like that but since I was a kid I played well in big games," explained McCollum during a media session Thursday evening. "That's how I got to where I'm at right now."

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Where was CJ introduced on the national stage in college? A postseason, historic upset over Duke.

Where did CJ break out in the NBA? A postseason series against Memphis where he finished the series with games of shooting 8-14, 8-12, and 12-20. That regular season, McCollum made just 55 shots all year. 

Simply put, McCollum rises to the occasion in the postseason with career playoff averages of 19.9 points per game on 43.9% shooting and 39.2% shooting from three-point range. While the 43.9% shooting could be better, lots of the shots McCollum takes are end-of-shot-clock situations where he needs to create his own shot.

"Historically I think I've played well in the playoffs if you go back and watch all the series," he said. 

 

Last postseason, in the five-game series against the NBA's top defense and eventual champion, the Los Angeles Lakers, McCollum hit 50% of stepback jump shots and 60% of stepback three-pointers. 

Don't forget it was a stepback three-pointer where McCollum toyed with then-rookie Ja Morant and hit a dagger to win the play-in game, too. You know, the shot that concluded with CJ yelling "He can't f***ing guard me!" 

After a few games in the NBA Playoffs, both teams know what the opponent is going to run and there won't be any tricking the other. Many playoff games come down to who can score on the opponent at a higher clip despite the defense's best efforts. 

Many possessions when nursing a late lead are isolation plays to drain the clock and hope your best player can hit a dagger.

With McCollum and Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers will enter crunch time with two of the league's best isolation scorers. With Lillard arguably the NBA's most lethal offensive player, McCollum likely draws the opponent's second-best perimeter defender, making it easier for him to go to work. 

CJ's ability to deliver in the clutch of important games is a large reason why a trade for him has not been entertained by Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. 

To win a championship, the eventual victor needs to get a little lucky and have some variance go their way.

For Portland, the walking, wine-drinking bucket that is CJ McCollum is its best bet to have that variance work out in its favor. When his isolation scoring is on, McCollum can win playoff games by himself, especially in the fourth quarter. 

Look no further than his Game 7 performance at Denver: a 37-point outing on the road, in altitude, on 58.6% shooting. Torey Craig could not stop McCollum from getting to his spot and CJ iced the game. 

When asked if that series was the best basketball he's played, CJ responded "I think that was my first time on that stage."

He routinely delivers, he just hadn't had the opportunity to do so in the Western Conference Semifinals until then. 

"For me it's like it's just a game," explained CJ. "The game is the game.

"It's more important obviously, there's more emphasis on scouting, more emphasis on film but I'm still going to do the same stuff. I'm gonna watch Netflix, I'm gonna FaceTime, watch some basketball, read occasionally because I do what I do. Like, what I've done historically [in the playoffs.] The same I'd act going into Game 7 is how I'd act going into Game 1. That's gotten me results."

Now, as McCollum prepares to play his first playoff game at Denver since his iconic performance, he says he feels good both "physically" and "mentally." 

"I feel normal. Getting ready for a playoff series against a good team, on the road. Probably, against a team that has a future MVP so I feel I'm in a good space."

 

Rip City gets to see what wizardry CJ pulls out of his bag this Saturday, May 22nd at 7:30 p.m. when the first-round series against Denver tips off on NBC Sports NW, the official home of the Portland Trail Blazers.