Blazers have plenty in reserve

Bench players spark team to win over Celtics

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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PORTLAND — Saturday night at the Moda Center seemed like Groundhog Day for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Facing another sub-.500 Eastern Conference foe, it was another slow start for the Blazers.

The Boston Celtics, who arrived in Portland on a season-long seven-game losing streak, came out on fire, and it once again put the Blazers in a position to have to comeback.

The Blazers were finally able to assert themselves in the second half. Behind excellent play from their starters — like 21 points and 13 rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge — and significant contributions from reserve guards C.J. McCollum and Mo Williams, Portland eventually cruised to a 112-104 victory.

McCollum scored 10 points in 14 minutes, while Williams poured in 11 points and four assists. Saturday night marked only the fifth time this season the Blazers had two bench players score in double figures.

The Celtics shot 62 percent in the first half, but the Blazers only found themselves down by two points despite giving up 60 points.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts said that McCollum's play kept the Blazers "afloat" in the first half with the Celtics hitting on all cylinders.

McCollum told his teammates he was going to be more aggressive than he was in his first game. He ran off screens with more aggression, putting the Celtics on their heels.

"Guys did a great job of moving the ball tonight, put me in a position to score," McCollum said after the game.

To be able to have a rookie with the poise and confidence to contribute like McCollum is a big addition for the Blazers. And point guard Damian Lillard said it may just be a harbinger of things to come from the rookie out of Lehigh.

"He can put the ball in the hole," Lillard said. "Tonight I think you guys got to see just a glimpse of it. But we'll need that from him, for him to come in and knock down shots and make plays."

Wesley Matthews scored seven of his 18 points in the third quarter as the Blazers took their first lead at the 7:34 mark of the period on a Matthews 3-pointer.

The Blazers were also able to use their size advantage against a Celtics team lacking a traditional big man.

The Blazers, who came in as a top-five offensive rebounding team, recorded a season-high 20 offensive rebounds which led to a 31-14 advantage in second-chance points. Robin Lopez led the way on the offensive glass, grabbing nine of Portland's misses on the night.

"Robin does a really good job of pursuing balls," Stotts said. "Obviously we had a height advantage. We didn't emphasize it. You take advantage of the strengths that you have."

While the Blazers played to their strength with their size on the glass, the Blazers' biggest weakness continues to be their starts.

"This stretch of playing teams with a lesser record, apparently is tough for us to get up for," Stotts said. "But in the end, it was good to get the win."

The Blazers now have several days off until they play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday prior to a daunting stint of four road games in five nights in Texas and Oklahoma.

Whether they fine-tune their slow starts or figure out how to avoid them is anybody's guess, including their own.

"If I knew the answer, I'd think we'd have been doing it by now," Lillard said.