Overshadowed the last two years when he played behind a pair of seasoned guards, CJ McCollum has blossomed into a rising star for the Portland Trail Blazers.
McCollum had 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Blazers to a 98-94 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.
No Blazers player in the past 29 years had put up numbers similar to McCollum’s near triple-double. Clyde Drexler had at least 34 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists on five occasions.
"CJ worked very hard his first two years here. But he learned the NBA game and put in a lot of time to have the type of success he is having right now," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
A shooting guard most of the season, McCallum has moved over to the point the past four games in the absence of injured All-Star Damian Lillard. McCollum did a little of everything against the Kings, making 14 of 28 shots, directing the offense and also picking up four steals and a block.
McCallum entered the game averaging 20 points and was shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point territory. His 35 points were two short of his career high.
"They have some good young kids and McCollum got it going great," Kings coach George Karl said.
The Blazers outscored Sacramento 18-14 in the fourth quarter to claim their second straight victory. They were coming off a convincing 105-76 win Saturday over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"This was a huge win. Number one, it came on the road, it was a back-to-back, and it came after all the excitement last night," Meyers Leonard said. "This season we haven’t had this type of win where we executed down the stretch so well in the fourth quarter. It was the first time we’ve won when we didn’t score 100 points or more."
DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points and six rebounds for the Kings. Omri Casspi had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo finished with nine points and 15 assists. But Rondo also committed eight of the Kings’ 23 turnovers that led to 28 Portland points.
Karl was denied his 1,155th victory, which would have tied him with Phil Jackson for fifth place on the career list.
"On our home court, fundamentally, we gave up the turnovers and the rebound. That’s a nightmare," said Karl, who ended his press conference quickly and departed with, "I’m done. I’m frustrated."
Leonard made four 3-pointers and had 16 points and 11 rebounds. He also played tough defense on Cousins in the fourth quarter with starting center Mason Plumlee on the bench with five fouls. Maurice Harkless added 13 points.
McCollum got a rebound and scored despite the presence of Cousins, putting the Blazers ahead by four points. McCollum followed with a midrange jumper to put the Blazers ahead 93-87 with 1:27 left.
Cousins cut the lead to 95-92 with a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining. The Blazers made three free throws in the final 20 seconds to preserve the win and snap a five-game road losing streak.
The Kings missed 19 of 22 shots in the fourth quarter and had five turnovers.
"We were trying to get different looks, but they did a good job of containing DeMarcus (2 of 9 in the fourth quarter) and staying out of fouls," Casspi said. "It’s just really a game that we should’ve won."
McCollum had 17 first-half points and scored 11 more in the third quarter, including a three-point play with 2.2 seconds left that tied game at 80.
LILLARD STILL MISSING
Lillard missed his fourth straight game with a nagging plantar fasciitis injury. He is averaging a career-high 24.6 points this season.
In his fourth season, Lillard started 275 straight games to begin his career, the longest such streak in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I told him take your time, but hurry up," laughed McCollum after the game.
Blazers: Portland made 7 of 11 3-pointers in the opening quarter, but finished 10 of 33. … McCollum had six rebounds and six assists in the third quarter.
Kings: Rondo has 18 games with 10 or more assists. … Rudy Gay missed 10 of 12 shots and finished with seven points, but did collect 14 rebounds.