McCollum, Anthony lead Blazers to 'must win'
It wasn't over until Gary Trent Jr. wrestled away the ball from Detroit's Langston Galloway as the Pistons tried to set up a game-tying 3-point attempt with the final seconds ticking away.
Finally, Moda Center denizens could breathe easily, the Trail Blazers escaping with a 107-104 victory over one of the NBA Eastern Conference's lottery-bound teams to snap a three-game losing streak.
After Friday's home loss to New Orleans, Portland's Hassan Whiteside called Sunday's game against the Pistons a "must-win" situation. The Blazers accomplished it — barely.
"We couldn't let that one slip away," said Whiteside, who continued his run of outstanding games with 16 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots, including a swat of a Derrick Rose drive that could have tied the score in the waning seconds.
It was the sixth straight setback for the Pistons (19-40), who have lost 12 of their last 14.
CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony put up performances suitable for framing to help Portland (26-32) remain a half-game ahead of the Pelicans (25-32) and ninth in the West, three games back of Memphis (28-28) in eighth.
In his second game running Portland's offense in place of the injured Damian Lillard, McCollum scored a season-high 41 points, dished out a career-high 12 assists and grabbed nine rebounds, coming one board short of his second career triple-double. McCollum made 15 of 30 shots from the field, hit 6 of 11 3-point attempts, had only one turnover in 43 minutes and played the entire second half.
"I don't like doing that," coach Terry Stotts said. "It was just one of those games where it was vital he stayed in the game."
"CJ led us tonight," said Anthony, who did his part with a season-high 32 points. "He came up big when we needed it, made the right plays. His shot was falling tonight. He put us on his back."
It was vintage Anthony, too, as the future Hall-of-Famer reached the 30-point mark for the first time in nearly three years.
"We needed every bit of that, every single point," said Anthony, who was 11 for 16 from the field and 5 for 9 from 3-point range. "Those guys just weren't going away."
The current Detroit roster bears little resemblance to that that started the season. As losses have mounted, the Pistons have jettisoned veterans Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Markief Morris, and the top two remaining scorers, Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard, are lost to knee injuries.
The Blazers jumped on the remaining cast with a 23-2 run to go ahead 30-11, and it was 40-24 after one quarter. Detroit dug in, the Blazers sputtered and the Pistons, using a 23-5 spurt, moved ahead 47-45. The visitors were on top 83-73 late in the third quarter before the Blazers rallied. They made enough plays at the end to win, but it was anything but easy against a team going nowhere.
"After we got out in the first quarter, we let our foot up off the gas, and those guys got confident," Anthony said. "They gained some momentum and stuck with it to the end."
The Blazers survived despite being outscored — are you ready? — 70-10 in bench points. Stotts chose to use his starters big minutes. Whiteside played 38 minutes, including most of the second half. Anthony totaled 37, Trevor Ariza — who did a nice defensive job on Rose — played 36.
Anfernee Simons played the most of any Portland reserve — 16 minutes — and scored six points on 2-for-6 shooting. Wenyon Gabriel added four points. Nassir Little and Mario Hezonja both went scoreless. Caleb Swanigan didn't play, coach's decision. Two-way players Jaylen Hoard and Moses Brown are in the G-League as the Blazers ration out the 45 days in which they can be up with the big club.
As long as Lillard is out, the Blazers must go to McCollum and Anthony for a majority of their offense.
"We don't have a choice, right?" Anthony said. "We gotta do what we gotta do to help this team win, at least put ourselves in position to try to win a game. It's going to come down to us two putting that pressure. This is the last quarter of the season. We're in a dogfight trying to get that spot."
In his two games running the point in Lillard's absence, McCollum is averaging 34 points and 11 assists.
"CJ was outstanding tonight, the way he managed the game," Stotts said. "What he's done the last two games with 'Dame' out is pretty impressive."
McCollum said he enjoys working off of Anthony.
"'Melo' is good in isolation," McCollum said. "He likes the 15-foot jumper. If I can turn the corner, his man will be more hesitant to help. It's either I'm going to be finishing or he's going to have opportunities to score. We played pretty well together tonight, figuring out ways to put the defense at a disadvantage."
The Blazers' next opponent (7 p.m. Tuesday at Moda Center) is no gimme. Boston (39-17) is coming off a 114-112 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday. A victory over the Celtics would be more than meaningful.
"If we're serious about the playoffs, we have to stop the bleeding," Whiteside said. "I know its tough with Dame out, but we can't make excuses. We have to keep fighting."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.