BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/CJ McCollum bombs in season-high 36 points, but his miss in closing seconds costly in 98-97 loss to Memphis

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Dillon Brooks of Memphis challenges a shot by the Blazers' CJ McCollum.He'd been hot as an Oregon wildfire throughout much of the game. So with the ball in CJ McCollum's hands in the closing seconds, it figured that CJ McCollum would knock down his final attempt with the game on the line.

But McCollum's open 17-foot jump shot went off the front rim, allowing the Memphis Grizzlies to escape with a 98-97 victory over the Trail Blazers Tuesday night at Moda Center.

"I got a good look," said McCollum, who scored a season-high 36 points on 14-for-26 shooting. "I make that shot pretty often. Went to a comfort shot and missed it. It felt good; just a little short."

The Blazers (6-5) seemed dead in the water when Mike Conley knocked down a pair of free throws with 23.1 seconds to go to give the Grizzlies (7-4) a 96-91 lead.

Then Conley gifted the Blazers — twice — to let them back into it.

First, Conley fouled Damian Lillard before the ensuing inbound play, giving Lillard a free throw — he made it — and the Blazers the ball out of bounds.

After McCollum drained a 3-point shot with 12.9 seconds left to close the gap to 98-97, Memphis called timeout, then inbounded in frontcourt. On the inbound play, Portland's Shabazz Napier went for a steal on a pass to Conley, the ball going out of bounds on the baseline with 12.1 seconds to go.

Referees ruled it was Memphis' ball. But after a review that lasted until tomorrow, it was ruled the ball went off of Conley's hands, and it was awarded to Portland.

The Blazers inbounded in backcourt to McCollum, who drove the left side and launched a shot from the left elbow that was short with 3.9 seconds left. McCollum grabbed the rebound but was unable to get off another attempt before the final horn.

"If we can get a shot like that for CJ to win a game, I'd take it every time," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "That was right in his sweet spot going left — an uncontested (17-footer). That's as good a shot as you can hope for."

It was ironic, because McCollum had one of the better scoring games of his career, and his best this season. Portland's starting shooting guard tallied 15 points in the first half and went for 14 in the final period on 6-for-9 gunnery.

"CJ's game was outstanding," Stotts said. "He made big shots. He was able to penetrate and finish. We needed all of his points."

That was in part because backcourt mate Damian Lillard never got his offensive game untracked. The Blazers' captain and point guard scored a season-low 12 points, making 4 of 16 shots from the field while missing all five 3-point attempts. Lillard, who missed his first seven shots, had six assists and five rebounds but also five turnovers in 34 minutes.

"I started off slow," said Lillard, who came into the game averaging 27.1 points. "Usually when I have a slow start like that, I try to get going in the third quarter … (the Grizzlies) are good defensively, but I just missed shots."

Center Jusuf Nurkic was no factor, either. The 7-foot Bosnian got two fouls in the first 1:24 and departed, playing only nine minutes in the first half. He spent the final 3:34 of the game watching from the bench, finishing with six points on 3-for-9 shooting and five boards in 20 minutes.

The Blazers got a nice contribution from point guard Napier, who came in with DNP/CDs (did not play/coach's decision) in four of the last five games. Napier — who had totaled 18 points in 46 minutes going in — scored 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, made his only 3-point attempt and had only one turnover in his 20 minutes off the bench.

"(The Grizzlies') second unit plays a small lineup," Stotts said. "I thought it was a chance for us to match that. We needed a little bit of a spark. I really like Shabazz. It's unfortunate he hasn't been able to get a lot of time so far. It was a chance to get him on the court."

Napier wasn't satisfied with his performance.

"Honestly, I didn't think I played that well," he said. "I felt out of rhythm. There were some shots I should have taken that I didn't take. I was trying to do what I could to spark us, but I felt like overall, I could have played better."

It was a big night for Memphis rookie Dillon Brooks, the second-round draft pick who helped Oregon to the Final Four last season. Brooks, starting his third straight game, scored seven points, making only 3 of 8 shots from the field. But the 6-6 small forward had one of the biggest plays of the night, converting a three-point play that gave the Grizzlies a 96-91 lead with 39.4 seconds left.

Brooks had eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. He played a team-high 38 minutes and spent most of his time guarding McCollum and Lillard.

"I loved the way Dillon competed," coach David Fizdale said. "He really made them work. We're talking about two premier, elite guards; they're going to get their numbers. They're so well-coached by Terry, it's hard to shut them down. You just want to make it difficult.

"Dillon makes plays in crunch moments. That was something our front-office guys noticed when they watched (video) on him. He always rose to the occasion in crunch moments. That's something we really like about him. He finds a way to help you win when everything is on the line."TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Blazers forward Ed Davis is fouled under the basket.

  • NOTES: Portland's next action is Friday night at home against Brooklyn. … Tyreke Evans came off the bench for 21 points, and Conley scored all 20 of his points in the second half for Memphis. Marc Gasol contributed 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots for the Grizzlies. … Lillard ran his consecutive free-throw streak to 50 by going 4 for 4 at the line. Lillard's career high is 54 straight. The franchise record is held by Damon Stoudamire at 57 in a row. … Lillard's streak of four games scoring 30 points or more ended. … Memphis was without three members of its regular rotation due to injury: guard/forward Ben McLemore (foot), guard Wayne Selden (quad) and forward JaMychael Green (ankle). … Portland center/forward Meyers Leonard, who has missed the last seven games with an ankle sprain, has been running and is getting closer to a return to the court. "I'm doing more and more each day," says Leonard, who is shooting to be active in about a week. "I'm feeling pretty good." … Portland power forward Noah Vonleh gave his best performance of the season, collecting six points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes. … The Blazers were good in two areas they've been strong in all season. The NBA leader in rebound percentage won the boards 42-34; the team ranked No. 5 in free-throw percentage made 19 of 20 attempts at the line.

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