TUALATIN, Ore. — Friday was a day that the Blazers tried to approach as any other day even though CJ McCollum’s red blazer suggested anything but.
As McCollum took the first question of his celebratory press conference for winning the 2015-16 NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, the made-for-NBA TV event where it’s about the accomplishment and nothing else, he made it about the series.
Clutch, as always, that McCollum.
“The biggest thing is understanding the game, I always played it but I understand it a little bit better,” McCollum said when asked about his areas of growth. “Seeing things before they happen. Guarding JJ (Redick) these last couple of games, understanding that DeAndre is coming with some moving screens at times. Understanding you got to fight through those, get around those. Study different parts of the game.”
It was sly, as McCollum often is and has been for the Blazers all season.
McCollum thanked everybody, from the video coordinator Jonathan Yim, whom McCollum said was always there working when he wanted to find “peace and serenity” in the gym, to Mason Plumlee, for all the screens he set.
Of course, McCollum thanked his family the most, his father was in attendance while his mother was en route to Turkey to watch his brother Errick play in the EuroCup Finals.
It’s that same brother, who has made a successful overseas career after going to a NAIA Division II school, the same one who stayed on a young McCollum to stay in the gym longer and eschew fun games for drills that would perfect his skills.
“We basically played one-on-one everyday, we workout together,” CJ McCollum said. “He texted me congrats and all that stuff. I’m about to cry. He means a lot for me. We do a lot of each other. I’m just thankful to have him in my life.”
All the while, nearly every member of his team watched him hold the court. That included Damian Lillard, his best friend on the team and the Blazers’ leading scorer, coming off a 6-for-22 shooting night in Game 2.
These Blazers aren’t much for stress — it must be all that hot yoga McCollum talked about. But really, even when things were really bad at 11-20, they felt relief, blew out the Cavaliers and rode into the playoffs.
McCollum’s ceremony also provided a brief exhale and the Blazers hope coming home will provide a similar result to the run that got them in the playoffs.
“It has to happen a lot quicker in a seven-game series” Plumlee said.
But symmetrical story arcs aside, the Clippers’ defense has been a puzzle the Blazers have been unable to solve in the first two games of the postseason.
“Four times maybe last game I just tried to beat the double team and when I got around it there was a guy waiting to block my shot,” Lillard said. “I have to stick with it. I’m a big believer in if you put your time in, you stick with it you going to get results. That’s what I’m depending on.”
No matter how Lillard goes about it, somebody and more likely, multiple players on this team is going to have to get hot to have a shot at extending the series.
In Game 2, the consensus was that the Blazers got more good shots than in Game 1 but they were simply unable to hit them.
Everyone from Lillard (3 for 14 on 3-pointers), to McCollum (3 for 12), to Al-Farouq Aminu (3 for 15), has been unable to get anything going after working hard to get good shots against the Clippers defense.
The Blazers didn’t take McCollum’s moment for granted and heading into Game 3, the same goes for home court advantage.
“We fell down 0-2, come home and you can’t take it for granted,” Lillard said. “Good teams will jump on you on Game 3 on the road. It’s no panic about us. We still believe.”