C.J. McCollum poured in 20 first-half points against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, knocking down tough jumpers from all over the floor en route to 8-of-11 shooting and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. His performance was a ringing endorsement of not just McCollum’s conditioning after spending six weeks on the sideline, but just how dangerous the Portland Trail Blazers can be when their star shooting guard has it going—even without Damian Lillard.
Portland led Miami 60-58 at intermission, a dogged effort away from home spearheaded by its starting backcourt. Anfernee Simons matched McCollum’s 20 points in the first half, catching fire midway through the second quarter to give his team a lead. With Jimmy Butler ejected and the Heat already absent Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro, the second half seemed a perfect opportunity for McCollum, Simons and the still short-handed Blazers to win a third straight game on the road.
It didn’t happen.
Beset by a dismal fourth quarter in which it was outscored 26-12, Portland fell to Miami 104-92 in a highly competitive game that hung in the balance until the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Bam Adebayo scored 10 of his 20 total points in crunch-time and was the driving force behind the Heat’s revved-up pressure on the other end, giving the Blazers guards fits defensively when switched onto the perimeter.
After the game, Chauncey Billups admitted that fatigue played a role in Simons’ late-game struggles, especially after he kept Portland afloat offensively in the third quarter. The Blazers rookie head coach refuted the notion that weary legs contributed to McCollum’s second-half disappearing act, though, chalking his four points on 2-of-9 shooting up to Miami’s stellar defense and an inevitable re-acclimation period after so much time away from the game.
“I thought CJ played really well. Having been gone for so long, he picked up and played pretty good,” Billups said. “I thought his rhythm may have been off a tad, his timing just a tad. But for the most part I thought he played really well.”
McCollum insisted his conditioning wasn’t an issue on Monday, following his initial return in Portland’s win over the Orlando Magic. He didn’t look especially winded in South Beach, either. But just because his body is right in wake of a scary injury doesn’t mean McCollum will play at the level to which Rip City has become accustomed for extended stretches.
Just flashes of that dynamic offensive form should be enough for the Blazers—and league at large, by the way, with the trade deadline approaching—to feel good about McCollum’s status after recovering from a collapsed lung. He provided plenty against Miami; the next step is sustaining them for a full 48 minutes.