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How CJ McCollum’s profanity prompted Robert Covington’s breakout game

C.J. McCollum, Robert Covington, Blazers

Lost amid Damian Lillard’s career-worst slump and the Portland Trail Blazers’ ongoing adjustment to playing under Chauncey Billups have been the struggles of Robert Covington.

Acquired for a pair of first-round picks before last season, Covington has hardly lived up to that price tag in the early going of 2021-22, struggling to find his footing in Portland’s new defensive scheme while playing mostly bystander on the other end. He entered Friday’s matchup with the Indiana Pacers averaging 4.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 27.5 minutes per game, at clear risk of losing more playing time to Nassir Little, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell.

Covington made a statement when his team needed him most, though, helping the Blazers overcome a nine-point late-game deficit by canning three triples in crunch-time. He finished 5-of-10 from beyond the arc en route to 19 points, all season-highs, capping Portland’s comeback on this game-sealing three with 14 seconds remaining.

Note how Covington got that wide-open look to put Portland up two possessions: A drive-and-kick from C.J. McCollum, who took the reins from a laboring Lillard as their team’s closer on Friday night.

Covington, to be clear, would’ve taken that shot even if he hadn’t just connected on a pair of threes. But his hot hand might not have come to pass if not for some encouragement from McCollum, who underscored Portland’s need for Covington to be aggressive offensively with pointed profanity.

“[Covington] was great,” McCollum said after the game. “I told him, ‘You gotta shoot the f***ing ball,’ and he shot it tonight. He made the extra passes when we needed him to, he defended, he was aggressive. He was the hero tonight.”

Covington’s rate of 8.0 three-point attempts per 100 possessions is actually slightly higher than last season’s. That wasn’t the case before Friday, though, and it’s clear Covington is still getting comfortable with his role in the Blazers’ more motion-heavy, egalitarian offensive attack. He was basically forced to let fly against Indiana, too, which deployed a 2-3 zone for large stretches of the game that left gaps on the perimeter Portland had to try and exploit.

Covington, obviously, took full advantage of those opportunities. Perhaps his breakout game will serve as the catalyst behind Covington becoming a more active, threatening part of the Blazers’ offense. If not, McCollum will surely let him hear about it—probably with a couple more expletives.