Trail Blazers make Western Finals
DENVER — Damian Lillard’s shots kept banging off the backboard, rattling off the rim, going everywhere but through the hoop.
The Portland Trail Blazers are going to the Western Conference Finals anyway because CJ McCollum had his back.
McCollum scored 37 points and added a crucial chase-down block in the closing minutes that helped the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 100-96 on Sunday to advance to their first conference championship since 2000.
They’ll open Tuesday night at Golden State against the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors in a series pitting Portland’s Seth Curry against his big brother, Golden State star Steph Curry.
Lillard scored 13 points and made just 3 of 17 shots from the field, but two of them were critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put Portland ahead 81-76 and 92-85.
“It’s a luxury to have two guys like that who can find different ways to score in different ways,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “CJ does it one way, Dame does it in another. On a night when Dame struggled shooting the ball CJ came up big.”
“CJ McCollum showed why they have one of the best backcourts in the NBA,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He put his team on his back and made big play after big play.”
None bigger than when his crucial chase-down block with 4:44 left and the Trail Blazers leading 87-83.
McCollum raced to stop a breakaway layup by Jamal Murray, who had a miserable night shooting, missing 14 of 18 shots.
“Seth did a good job of cutting off his lane and making him have to go over his head,” McCollum said. “He put it right there for me and I went and got it ‘Bron style. Shout out to my guy ‘Bron. It was a mini-version of ‘Bron’s block on Iggy some years ago . Definitely didn’t get up as high but it was a cool play. I might get a picture of that.”