Tolliver fills in the blanks
It's been a rough season for Anthony Tolliver, a shooter who has been mostly firing blanks for the Trail Blazers.
The 6-8, 245-pound journeyman was shooting .320 from the field and .315 from 3-point range, numbers that can earn a player a pink slip.
Then came the fourth quarter Monday night at Moda Center.
Suddenly, Tolliver became Larry Bird.
Tolliver — who had gone scoreless in nine minutes to that point — put up an airball on a his first attempt of the final period from 3-point range.
Then he knocked down seven shots in a row, including two treys, the impetus Portland needed to finish a 115-112 victory over Charlotte.
"That was his best game of the season," said Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who collected 30 points and nine assists. "We needed a win, and he came through."
The 12-year NBA veteran matched his career scoring high for a quarter and set a season high for a game with his 16-point fourth-quarter outburst.
"I told him in the locker room that we don't give game balls, but if we did, he'd get it," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.
Tolliver scored mostly from the perimeter but also converted a jump hook and drove for a spinning reverse layup in the closing minutes.
"It looked like he was back in Missouri," shooting guard CJ McCollum said of the Springfield, Missouri, native, who played his college ball at Creighton. "There was a bounce to his step.
"'A.T.' was huge for us down the stretch. He hit some big shots, he rebounded and defended — a little bit of everything. He just brought a lot of energy for us and some veteran leadership."
When Tolliver found he was in a zone, he milked it for all it was worth.
"Teammates were finding me in positions to score, and I was able to capitalize on those opportunities," he said. "I saw a couple of shots fall and started feeling pretty good. I'm not a one-on-one type guy, just somebody out there trying to be in the right place at the right time."
Tolliver has bounced from team to team — 11 total — in the NBA. He has always been a role player, counted on to hit shots, mostly from long range. In 2017-18, he shot .436 from beyond the arc for Detroit, and his career percentage coming into the season was a solid .375.
But Tolliver had not shot well this season, and was in and out of the rotation, sitting out 10 of the first 32 games due to coach's decision. But with the wave of injuries that has struck Portland's "bigs," Stotts has had no choice but to play him the last two weeks.
Tolliver said his confidence never wavered through his shooting drought.
"It's about persistence," he said. "That's who I am. That's what has allowed me to play in the league as long as I have — being able to stay with it no matter what the circumstances are. Trusting in my work, my faith, my backbone.
"It's being able to go out there and play with a lot of confidence. If I'm 0 for 5 or 5 for 5, I play the same way. My first shot tonight was an airball. Some people, that will ruin their confidence. With me, it's hey, the next one's going to be right in.
"That's the mind-set of a shooter, someone who believes in himself. I want to do whatever I can to help teams win. Tonight, I was able to fill it up a little bit."
Tolliver's good attitude never wavered, either. He cheered on his teammates from the sidelines, worked hard at practice and never got down on himself or on Stotts for not playing him.
"That's what you call a pro," Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Never knows when his number is going to be called. Always preparing himself for that moment, for that game. Takes it one day at a time. When his number is called, he's ready to deliver.
"To me, that's a pro. (Tolliver) could easily go into his own mode, start thinking about things and let it get into his head. This is a league (in which) guys easily lose their confidence in a situation like that. Him being the guy he is, the pro he is — tonight that paid off."
Tolliver also had 11 rebounds, equaling the season high he achieved Saturday night against Milwaukee. Five of them were off the offensive glass, including a couple of batted balls to teammates.
"He got us extra possessions," Stotts said. "When (the Hornets) were double-teaming, he found a way to make himself available. He made a lot of hustle plays."
NOTES: It was the third win in 11 games for Portland (17-24), in 10th place in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of Phoenix (16-23). ... McCollum had 20 of his 27 points in the first half. ... It was Lillard's 15th game of 30 or more points this season. ... Anthony contributed 17 points, a season-high eight assists and six rebounds. ... Trailing 62-46 at halftime, the Hornets (15-28) hit nine 3-pointers and scored 43 points in the third quarter. It was the most points in a single quarter against the Blazers this season. "I'm just glad we had a cushion," Stotts said. ... Charlotte has lost 11 of its last 13 games. ... Portland embarks on a three-game trip that begins with a 6:30 p.m. PT Wednesday tip-off Houston. "Forty-one games left," McCollum said. "We have to do better in those 41."
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