PORTLAND — CJ McCollum’s three-pointer with 43.3 seconds left Sunday helped the Portland Trail Blazers put away the Los Angeles Clippers 119-114, putting the finishing touches on his first pro start, with his 17th, 18th and 19th points of the game.
McCollum was told by Blazers coach Terry Stotts roughly an hour before tipoff that he would get the start on Sunday.
“I think I just got taped,” McCollum said about the moment he learned he would get the start against one of his idols, Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
“He’s a guy I’ve really looked up for a long time. I really haven’t played against him since I was at his camp in college. It was good to go out there and steal some of his moves,” McCollum said.
Whether it was pulling up for three off screen and rolls, catching and shooting or finding Thomas Robinson cutting to the hoop for the slam, McCollum brought a lot to the table on Sunday. The second-year guard from Lehigh says things are slowing down for him now.
“He’s getting more comfortable being a ball-handler, play-maker,” Stotts said. “I thought he had a good floor game. Obviously, the offensive end was where he was best tonight.”
With Damian Lillard out a second straight preseason game due to a left foot strain, and rather than start backup point guard Steve Blake, Stotts let Blake play with the second unit players he will be on the floor with for much of the year, giving McCollum the nod.
Even Clippers coach Doc Rivers came away impressed by the play of McCollum.
“I like him. I’ve always liked him. He can score,” Rivers said. “The point isn’t his natural position, but it is. He can run that position. He’s going to be a good player in the league for a longtime.”
Portland’s other starting guard, Wesley Matthews, also did more than his share getting the Blazers going from an offensive standpoint with his trademark three-point shooting, going 6-of-7 from deep.
“It felt like a hula hoop tonight,” said Matthews on his shooting night.
Four Blazers — McCollum, Matthews, Allen Crabbe and Nicolas Batum — hit multiple three-pointers on Sunday and it helped propel their offensive attack against a potent Clippers team that many see as a championship contender.
On the defensive end, the Blazers had an improved outing in terms of transition defense. The Clippers, one of the league’s best fast-breaking teams last season, scored only nine fast-break points. The Blazers opponents had scored in the high-teens in the previous two outings.
“I thought it was really good,” said Stotts of the transition defense. “The first half in particular, I think they had, according the stat sheet, two fast break points. They were really looking to push it, in-bounding it quickly.”
Down the stretch, the Blazers young players were once again faced with the challenge of closing the game, this time against a veteran Clippers bench.
“It’s a good experience for them to be in a position to close out the game,” Stotts said.
Will Barton got the start at point guard in the second half and finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists but his line was brought down by five turnovers.
Still, despite any shortcomings on the stat sheet, the Blazers just needed to feel that winning feeling again.
“Even though it’s preseason, it’s good to get a win,” Stotts said.