PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A smile crossed CJ McCollum’s face in the fourth quarter as he sat on the bench and the hometown crowd chanted ”We Want CJ!”
McCollum had already collected a milestone 50 points in the game against the Chicago Bulls. The crowd wanted more.
For McCollum, 50 points was enough.
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The Blazers guard’s final tally in the 124-108 victory over the Bulls on Wednesday night was a career high. So were his 18 field goals.
McCollum also became just the second NBA player in history to score 50 or more points in less than 30 minutes , joining Golden State’s Klay Thompson. Overall, he’s the sixth player to hit the milestone this season.
He acknowledged afterward that reaching the 50-point plateau was special. And indeed when he left the Moda Center, he had the game ball tucked under his arm.
”A lot of the elite players score 50 points, that’s just the way it is,” McCollum said. ”It shows you are a really unique scorer and have a lot of abilities.”
McCollum sat in the fourth quarter for obvious reasons: The game was already a rout, and risking injury in a blowout was foolhardy. Sportsmanship comes into play, too.
”At that point it was a 20-, 21-point lead? You don’t want no bad karma,” said teammate Damian Lillard, who holds the franchise record with a 59-point game last season. ”I was thinking about that last year when I was in Miami, I had 49, and there was a couple seconds left and something happened where I could have gone over 50, and I was like, I’d rather take 49 the right way than go out there and force 50 and something bad happens.”
But even so, some of his teammates wished the show could go on.
”I wanted to see him score more,” Shabazz Napier said. ”That’s just me being selfish, though.”
McCollum’s feat came a day after James Harden had 60 in a triple-double that led the Rockets over the Orlando Magic, 114-107.
It also helped the Blazers (29-22) to their fourth straight overall victory (the first four-game winning streak of the season) and eighth straight win at home. Portland rests in sixth place in the Western Conference and appears poised to make a second-half push for playoff position.
It was clear McCollum was on his game from the start. He scored a franchise-record 28 points in the first quarter alone – besting Lillard’s previous record by a basket – including four 3-pointers. It was the most points scored in a quarter in the league this season.
He punctuated the first half with a dunk, finishing the half with 32 points as the Blazers went into the break with a 67-44 lead.
”Once he hit a couple of those tough ones, I was like, I mean I recognize that feeling and I saw the rhythm that he was playing with. At that point, it was just my job to make sure he got the ball in his hands as many times as possible,” Lillard said.
After he sat down at the end of the third quarter, McCollum smiled when the crowd chanted his name.
”I was thinking, I hope I don’t have to go back in,” McCollum said. ”That means we’re not playing the way we should be playing. There was a lot of love tonight, and I appreciate it.”
McCollum joined an elite group of 50-point Blazers: Lillard, Damon Stoudamire, Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Clyde Drexler and Geoff Petrie.
But what made it most special for McCollum was one face in the crowd. McCollum’s 92-year-old great aunt was visiting Portland for the first time and was at the game.
He planned to celebrate with her afterward.
”She’s a soldier,” he said. ”She’s going to have some wine with me.”