For a rookie, Blazers' CJ is A-OK
Two games into his NBA career, CJ McCollum has shown the world what his Trail Blazer teammates have known since late summer.
The kid is a player.
The rookie guard from LeHigh played a significant role in Portland's 112-104 victory over Boston Saturday night at the Moda Center, contributing 10 points in 13 1/2 minutes off the bench.
McCollum, who has spent recent months in rehab after breaking a foot in the preseason, debuted with four points and two rebounds in 14 minutes in the Blazers' 110-94 win over Orlando on Wednesday.
Against the Celtics, he was a much bigger presence, knocking down his first three shots -- including back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter -- and scoring eight points in a first half in which Portland (28-9) trailed the entire way.
"Got into a rhythm early," McCollum said. "Guys did a good job of moving the ball and putting me in position to score. I told them before the game I was going to be more aggressive."
McCollum missed his fourth shot, a long 2-pointer from the side. A heat check?
"No, no, that was a good shot," he said, smiling. "I should have followed through. If I'm open, you want me to pass up a shot? You're open, take the shot."
McCollum is an interesting study -- bright, media-savvy, the sports editor of the student newspaper at LeHigh for two years. He has plenty of game and the self-confidence to back it up, as he showed early Saturday night.
"CJ was terrific," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "He kept us afloat in the first half. He came out aggressive and looked for his shot. He seemed much more comfortable tonight than in his first game."
The 6-3, 195-pound McCollum said he was.
Against Orlando, "I was just trying to feel out and see where I fit in," he said. "Tonight, I was going to play like I do in practice -- be aggressive, and not only look at my shot but to get into the lane and create different things."
McCollum's early offense got the attention of his older teammates.
"That was huge for us, for a rookie to have enough confidence to knock down big shots for us," said center Robin Lopez, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. "He took those without a second thought."
"He's skilled," said forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the way with 21 points and 13 rebounds. "He knows the game. He can make shots. He has great pace to his game. He fits in well with the rest of us. He's a player."
Aldridge said he knew that during September pickup games at the Blazers' practice facility.
"He looked good," Aldridge said. "He made some tough shots. He's been good since day one."
In recent weeks, McCollum has lit up during the Blazers' infrequent practice sessions.
"He can put the ball in the hole," said point guard Damian Lillard, who had 15 points and six assists. "You guys (in the media) got to see just a glimpse of it tonight.
"We'll need that from him, for him to come in and knock down shots and make plays. It'll be huge to have another guy come in and contribute the way he did tonight."
McCollum is fully expecting to do all of that. And more.
"I haven't even displayed my total game yet," he said. "It's still coming along. If you guys could see practice, you'd see a different version of me. I'm going to continue to work hard and put myself into position to work hard every night."
Veteran guard Mo Williams is a believer, too.
"He knows he should be here," said Williams, who came off the bench for 11 points and four assists. "He knows he's going to be really good. He'll continue to learn, stay humble, stay hungry and go through the process. He's going to have a nice career."
Boston led by as many as 10 points early and took a 60-58 advantage into intermission. Portland's first lead came at 79-78 on a 3-pointer by Wesley Matthews -- who finished with 18 points -- with 7:30 left in the third quarter. The Blazers opened a 104-91 edge midway through the fourth quarter. The Celtics rallied but never got closer than six the rest of the way.
It was the eighth straight loss for Boston (13-25), which finished its road trip 0-5. Point guard Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 25 points on 11-for-19 shooting.
Lillard made only 5 of 15 shots from the field. Over the last two games, he is 9 for 27 while averaging 13.0 points.
Aldridge notched his 21st double-double and had his 15th game of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Lopez tied his career high of nine offensive rebounds, which he set against Philadelphia on Jan. 4.
Boston is 27-25 over the years in Portland, the only team to have a winning record against the Blazers at home.
Ex-Blazer Jerryd Bayless contributed 12 points and six assists off the bench in his second game for Boston after a trade from Memphis.
Stotts suggested afterward that the Blazers, who lost to Philadelphia and Sacramento over the past week, are overlooking sub-.500 opponents.
"You try not to be disappointed about not playing necessarily as well as you wanted to," Stotts said. "Offensively, we were good. Defensively, we were good when we needed to be. This stretch of playing teams with a lesser record apparently is tough for us to get up for. You give credit to the opponent for making shots, being aggressive. Some of it's us; some of it's them. I don't want to belabor it. In the end, it was good to get the win."
Stotts, on the Blazers' season thus far: "We're still a work in progress. There is room for improvement. I've said that from the beginning. We had a good start to the season, but we aren't a finished product. We have to incrementally grow -- basketball-wise, and everything else."