DENVER – After destroying the Denver Nuggets with a dazzling and delicious performance that will go down in Portland Trail Blazer's story, CJ McCollum climbed the steps of the Pepsi Center in section 129 to seek a hug.
Kathy Andrews, McCollum's mother, was sitting in the hall about fifteen rows, and when her son strolled up the stairs and put a tailored green suit around his shoulders, he had to grin victoriously. Andrews set her cell phone on McCollum as he rose, no doubt a video of the moment, and when he reached her, she stood up to share a Mother's Day hug they'll never forget.
"He said he would do a good job for me," Andrews said. "I told him that everything I wanted for Mother's Day was a victory, he said, 'I told you!'
Powered by McCollum's most impressive and important achievement, a small salvation through Evan Turner and a lot of courage, the blazers defeated the Nuggets on Sunday afternoon between 1
It will be the seventh franchise history – and for the first time since 2000 – that the Blazers will play in the final of the conference.
"We will not stop, we will not give up," said Moe Harkless, "when we arrived at halftime, there was nobody in the dressing room who thought we were losing the game, we showed it on the floor, we got it shown all season, all playoffs. We were in situations where we really, really had to fight to stay ahead of the game. We're in great shape with our backs against the wall. And I think we showed that again. "
Indeed. Similar to this unlikely playoff run, the blazers had to overcome a mountain of adversity to keep their championship dreams alive.
They achieved only 17 points in the first quarter. They followed in the second quarter with 17 points. They shot only 15 percent from the three-point range. Damian Lillard had one of the coldest playoffs of his career, Rodney Hood suffered a frightening left knee injury and Zach Collins got into trouble.
But as if guided by fate – or the fate of owner Paul Allen, some of them say – The resilient Blazers responded as they had tragedies, challenges or injuries all season.
Lillard fought his way through a memorable three-night shoot-out to earn two points in the clutch knockout. There, Enes Kanter quickly overtook a Ramadan and hurt with his left shoulder to score 12 points and 13 rebounds. Meyers Leonard fought against Nikola Jokic in defense and put out harsh pressure on Jamal Murry and Collins to score important seven points, five rebounds and four blocks.
But more than anything else, there was an effort by Turner. And there was a masterful performance from McCollum.
And now a season continues that has suddenly turned from fun to special, with a date against the big, bad warriors and a shot in the story.
"I just think we are a pretty tough team," said Turner. "We always stay together, we remain confident – we have always been a confident group, everyone is talking about the playoffs of the last two years and I think we've paid our dues to get to that point and be able to fight through We had problems all year with Paul, with (Jusuf Nurkic) and with Jon Yim, who had a car accident, because of pressure could cause pipes or diamonds to break, we would never have thought that we would lose immediately. "
For McCollum started Sunday with a sms.
Just before the game, he looked at his cell phone and noticed a warning from his brother Errick, who sought wise advice between his own professional basketball games in Russia:
"Calm down not, "he wrote.
Come in. Release the swimmer, drive to the basket, be aggressive.
And that's exactly what McCollum did from start to finish When his team-mates got off to an icy start – the Blazers made only 7 of 25 shots in the first quarter – McCollum coolly scored 4 of 6 and scored eight points to keep them afloat. In the second quarter, when they struggled with teeth and nails to return from a 17-point hole, he shot 3 out of 6 and scored seven points. Then he took command.
McCollum cut and made his way through the Nuggets defense in breathtaking fashion. 19659003] "He was a monster," said Harkless of McCollum. "He was incredible. He carried us most of the game. He's a killer, and he did that tonight.
And two kill shots will be remembered the most.
Jokic Lillard's driving maneuver struck back with 4:44 minutes and a lead of four points, knocking the ball halfway forward to Murray. The nuggets' dynamic point guard broke free and sprinted for an empty basket, with nothing but a highlight reel ahead of them. But Seth Curry caught up with the logo and walked step by step with Murray to the basket just to defy him. As Murray approached the tire, he had to settle for a left-hander, and in the last second – out of nowhere – McCollum rose and struck the attempt, switching momentum in the blink of an eye.
It was perhaps the most memorable and most extraordinary chase-down block in the franchise history. "They passed it on. Seth did a great job cutting off his husband and getting him to go over his head, and he just laid it out for me. I just got it – Bron style. Greetings to my husband Bron. "
Bron is of course LeBron James. And McCollum likened his moment to that of James's famous chase block on Andre Igoudala in Game 7 of the NBA Finals 2016.
"It was a mini version of Bron," McCollum said. "I definitely did not get up that high, but it was a cool piece, it's something I'll remember all my life, I might need a picture of it."
He may also want a setting for his greatest After the blazers recovered from this 17-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, they battled against a nuggets attack, and as Murray, with a lead of 29.7 seconds, beat a tough jumper Harkless swung to lay Denver in 96-95, an exciting series that included everything from four overtime to triple-double to mini-close combat.
During a break, McCollum Terry Stotts declared he Wants to oblige the blazer's ball and coach to call four flat and place the ball – and the game – in McCollum's hands.
He dripped patiently on the perimeter erum, took a little time to tick the clock and set to work with a break of about 18 seconds. McCollum judged Torrey Craig outside the three-point line, rocking back and forth, then shot at the tire and stopped near the free-throw line. McCollum gave Craig a little MJ-like nudge and stepped back, brandishing a three-meter jersey, no doubt.
It gave the Blazers a 98-95 lead and proved to be the difference.
] McCollum's last line: 37 points, nine rebounds, 17 of 29 shots and a big old stallion.
Few blazers have beaten so many critics as the scrawny Ohio boy who could muster only one mid-major college scholarship. He was too small to play shooters, too defensively challenged to side with Lillard, too streaky to succeed in the playoffs. Most experts and many fans had long ago decided that McCollum had to be swapped for the Blazers to become a serious threat to the Western Conference. But there he was on Sunday – at an average of 26.4 points and a shot of 45 percent of the field in the series – and silenced them all.
"I wanted to empty the clip tonight," McCollum said. "And I thought I did that."
He also had some help from Turner.
The often malicious little striker whose $ 70 million contract and up and down production has provoked fierce criticism from Blazer's fans. earned every penny of his deal on Sunday. He finished the race with 14 points – twice as many as in the remainder of the postseason – seven bounces and two assists, an important production that felt harder because it was so up to date. Most of the damage came in the crucial fourth quarter after Hood left with an overstretched left knee and was critical to the blazer's victory.
Turner played the entire fourth and initiated the Blazer offensive with 10 points over long distances and distributed two assists. He sealed the victory by scoring two free throws with a remaining time of 8.0 seconds.
"Things are going the way they should," Turner said. "I'm just a pro, I've been in the league so long and I'm fortunate enough to be in those situations during my career. I somehow knew it at the time of printing. I would be fine. I have always been like that.
Stotts added, "Evan was in big games. He is a big game player.
Now the big games will continue for at least one more round, in a place they have not been in 19 years, the reigning champion Warriors is of course preferred, but so was the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. And the Nuggets, too, after taking the lead 3-2 in the conference semifinals.
The blazers mourned their owner, they endured Nurkic's gruesome leg injury and dealt with Yim's heavy car accident.  And they've overcome everything.
As they rush forward and visit the terrain that has no blazer team in nearly two decades, they feel they are simply approaching the next phase rather than the beginning of the end.
"We feel like we still have a lot of basketball in front of us," Hood said.
After the game, Lillard ended a television interview after the game and went to the blazer locker on the way To sign a few autographs for fans hanging over the corner railing, he stalked past a flock of followers screaming his name and began to hop.
Like a child, Lillard hopped down and down a back hallway.
Then he slowed and wrapped his hands around the back of his head, putting his arms forward to almost shield his face. Before he reached the locker room, the weight of the moment struck him, his emotions overwhelmed him and the franchise cornerstone ted to tear up.
When he finally opened the locker room door and joined his teammates, a roaring roared noisy that you could hear it in the hallway.
"We had the roster turnover four years ago and everyone shot us fast, you count us out," Lillard said. "And at the time, we did not know exactly where we would go, but we definitely relied on the culture we wanted to create, do things right, work hard, interact with each other." We really built that up from the jump. Everyone is invested in what we have created.
"And I think that when we are in the lead in a game like this, in a difficult series like this one, we see that in the celebration of each one of us." Everyone is excited because we all participated. You do not just do things like that with a player. Everyone has to be there. That's how it was tonight.
In the locker room, new owner Jody Allen talked to the team after the match, telling them how proud she was, how impressed she was and how excited she was – for the win and for what's to come.
Then she urged her to keep this particular season going
herself out, "Turner said," I'm not saying that this will make up for the tragedy we had. But … you could feel that it would be a special year. Sometimes, not to make it funny, but the ghosts of Nurk, the ghosts of Paul, are alive and kicking. I think it's great that Jody can support us and do all these great things. This win is just as important to them as it is to everyone in Portland. "
– Joe Freeman | firstname.lastname@example.org | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman | Visit abonnement.oregonlive.com/newsletters to send the Oregonian / OregonLive journalism to your email inbox.