As the Portland Trail Blazers stunned the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals in 2019, Michael Porter Jr. sat on the bench and took it all in.
It was a miraculous comeback from Portland, who crawled back into the game after trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half, in large part to CJ McCollum’s crafty second-half takeover.
Each time the Nuggets closed the gap, McCollum responded with key jumpers, a chase-down block, and stellar finishes at the rim in front of a hostile Denver crowd. In all, McCollum finished with 37 points on 59 percent shooting from the field with only one of his 17 made field goals coming from three-point range.
What Porter took from that game is that it doesn’t always have to be Lillard Time for the Blazers to wreak havoc.
“Honestly, what I remember most is just how good CJ McCollum was,” Porter Jr. told reporters Wednesday.
Unlike two years ago when the Trail Blazers and Nuggets faced off in the postseason, Porter Jr., one of the NBA’s rising stars, will be called upon as the team’s second man to step up with Jamal Murray, PJ Dozier and Will Barton all ruled out for Game 1.
“With Jamal out, with PJ out, with Will Barton still working his way back, Michael’s going to be ultra-important for us on both ends of the floor,” Coach Michael Malone said Wednesday. “He’s got to be that second scoring option for us. So, I think Michael starting, coming off the bench, playing big minutes, making big shots, he’s played in big games and he’s had big moments. I think from that standpoint, I don’t think this is going to be something new for Michael.”
In 61 games this season, Porter Jr. is averaging 19 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The third-year forward is hitting 54.2 percent of his attempts from the field and finished the season ninth in three-point shooting with a percentage of 44.5%.
While Porter Jr. got his first taste of playoff experience inside the NBA Bubble last season, this will be his first time traveling and playing in front of a playoff crowd at the Moda Center, home of the Trail Blazers.
“I definitely feel more ready,” Porter Jr. said of his second playoff stint.
As the Nuggets prepare for the Blazers, Malone says the team is preparing for Robert Covington to be guarding Porter Jr. He believes Portland’s defense will ramp up the physicality to crowd the Nuggets forward, but the 22-year-old said he won’t stray from showcasing his strides on the defensive end as well.
“I know I’m capable of locking in and giving a lot of energy and making a difference on that side of the basketball,” Porter Jr. said. “I’m definitely looking forward to that probably more than the offensive stuff.”
Malone calls the experience a “wonderful opportunity,” for Porter Jr. It will also be a true testament to whether Porter Jr. can weather the storm in one of the NBA’s hostile environments.
“At the end of the day, it’s still basketball,” Porter Jr. said. “Guys are going to be a lot more locked in. It’s going to be a lot more intense, but it’s still basketball. … I’m looking forward to it, playing on the biggest stage you can possibly on. Every game and every possession matter and I can’t wait.”