The NBA is wild.
Thursday night was a reminder that no matter who is on the floor for any given team, they can’t be counted out.
NBA players who rarely see the floor always have something to prove.
The extremely shorthanded Trail Blazers were fairly large underdogs heading into Thursday’s contest against the No. 1 team in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Betting odds favoring the 76ers by 10 points once Damian Lillard was ruled out with an abdominal injury.
But, that's why they play the game.
Yes, the Sixers were without Ben Simmons, but it left Joel Embiid to score 31 points in the first half against Portland. And yet, the Blazers, who were without a total of four starters, were up for the challenge and then some.
Portland led for much of the game and defeated Philadelphia 121-105 with barely a team to field.
But as Trail Blazers fans know pretty well, a team that is without its stars can often witness a young player or end of the bench players have breakout games.
As one would imagine, and judging by all the smiles at the end of the game, it was a good feeling to be on the other end for a change.
Thursday night, it was CJ Elleby, who made an immediate impact.
He broke free of his rookie chains.
The 20-year-old who was the 46th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft entered Thursday’s game having played in a total of eight NBA games for Portland tallying a total 42 minutes played.
Thursday he earned an extended run of 31 minutes due to so many injuries.
But after his performance, he earned the love from his teammates.
There was probably nobody else more excited for Elleby than Gary Trent Jr., who knows a thing or two about making the most of his opportunity.
With a smile that was seen through his face mask, Trent Jr. described Elleby’s game.
Elleby finished with a season-high 15 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in his season-high 31 minutes of action, which was the amount of playing time Coach Stotts says he planned on playing Elleby.
If it wasn’t Trent Jr. who was showing love to the rookie, it was CJ McCollum who was cheering on his fellow CJ.
While McCollum continues to rehab his left foot sprain, he has shared his commentary during games on Twitter, but he also shared his excitement with NBCSNW after watching Elleby ball out.
That’s what this Blazers team is about:
The genuine support and happiness shared between teammates is always there.
And it’s contagious.
Just as the Blazers’ defensive effort was on Thursday.
As a team Portland looked in tune and assertive on that end, a trait that hasn’t been there for this team that often this season.
It was something that McCollum was sure to note:
It was on that side of the ball that Coach Stotts noted postgame when it came to his rookie’s defensive awareness and energy.
Elleby certainly asserted himself chasing after loose balls, ending up on the floor more often than not, and snagging offensive boards to give the Blazers’ extra possessions.
He did a little bit of everything.
Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard coached Elleby on the sideline after Lillard was the latest added to the injury report due to an abdominal strain. Elleby says Lillard gave him "quick pointers of where I need to be, what I need to be thinking about what I should be talking myself through on defense.”
But sitting there calmly in the postgame media room, Elleby also discussed how not getting too juiced for Thursday’s game was key for him.
As Elleby tried to shut out his thoughts and not be too anxious heading into Thursday’s game, he took time in the hotel room to rest and work on his breathing. He also made sure to take an ice bath and to watch one of his favorite anime shows, Naruto.
We have to imagine that watching anime before games is going to become routine for the rook if it wasn’t already.