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McCollum Time: Blazers pull one out against the 76ers

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Guard CJ McCollum scored a game-high 25 points and had the winning three-point play in the closing moments Saturday as the Trail Blazers held off the Philadelphia 76ers at Moda Center.Not much went according to form down the stretch Saturday at Moda Center, but the Trail Blazers survived with a harder-than-expected 108-105 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Blazers were cruising along with a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter when they went cold.

It took some closing heroics — especially by guard CJ McCollum — for Portland to open its four-game homestand with the win.

Philadelphia hadn’t led since 3-2 in the game’s opening moments when it surged ahead of Portland 100-97 with 3:15 remaining.

The outcome was up for grabs the rest of the way — and McCollum wound up seizing it for the Blazers.

The teams were tied 105-105 when Portland got the ball with 23.4 seconds to go. That situation usually is when Damian Lillard gets the ball and makes something happen.

The 76ers weren’t about to let that happen to them, however, and so “Lillard Time” became “McCollum Time.”

The 76ers trapped Lillard, forcing him to pass cross-court to McCollum. Philadephia rushed over to double-team him, too. With both McCollum and nearby Portland coach Terry Stotts thinking about a timeout, McCollum kept his patience and then split the defenders, got to the basket and finished at the rim. He was fouled on the layup and sank the free throw for a three-point play that gave Portland a three-point lead with 7.6 seconds left.

Up 108-105, Portland intentionally fouled forward Jerami Grant on his inbound-play catch before he could flip the ball to a 3-point shooter. Grant missed both free throws with 7.2 seconds to go, including the second one when he banged the ball off the backboard without it hitting the rim.

Time ran out with the 76ers attempting to steal the ball in the backcourt.

McCollum, who has played Robin to Lillard’s Batman all season, said he trusted that he could make the super hero move and bail out his team.

“They went with two (defenders) at me. I was counting the seconds and just split the trap,” McCollum said. “I knew eventually I’d be able to kind of split the defense.”

“I’m glad we won the game. … It was a great move (by McCollum). It was a good and-one. He made a good read,” said Stotts, who didn’t have a lot else good to say about the evening.

McCollum finished with a game-high 25 points as Portland survived a chilly fourth quarter in which the 76ers went from 16 points down to three points in front in a span of less than eight minutes.

“They played better than us to come back,” McCollum said. “We didn’t get stops when we needed them. We didn’t do a lot of things well, but we did enough toward the end to withstand their run and finish them off.”

Lillard said “it’s huge” to have a teammate capable of beating an opponent with one key play at the end.

“I’m thinking I’m going to get the last shot, but I had no problem swinging the ball to him,” Lillard said. McCollum’s offensive threat “gives our team balance and takes pressure off me.”

And, Lillard said, “it’s fun to watch when he gets going and some of the things he can do.”

Although it turned out to be anything but easy, the Blazers got some revenge and a valuable victory in the NBA playoff chase.

Portland, sixth in the Western Conference, improved to 38-36 and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of idle Houston (36-37) and Utah (36-37), which beat Minnesota 93-84 at Minneapolis. Idle Dallas (35-37) is ninth in the West.

The 76ers lost their eighth consecutive game and 12th in a row on the road and fell to 9-64, the worst record in the league.

Hollis Thompson, Ish Smith and reserve Robert Covington paced the 76ers with 17 points apiece. Smith had a game-high 14 rebounds, five above his previous career high.

For Portland, Al-Farouq Aminu tied his career high with 20 points, Moe Harkless and Lillard each had 16 points, and Gerald Henderson scored 11 off the bench. Lillard also had seven assists and five rebounds, and Ed Davis pulled down 13 rebounds.

The Blazers had suffered one of their worst defeats of the season at Philadelphia, losing 114-89 2 1/2 months ago. But the 76ers’ only leads in the rematch were at 1-0 and 3-2 — until Portland went 4 of 25 from the field in the final quarter (up to McCollum’s winning layup) and brought Lillard off the bench to help pull out the win.

Lillard’s 3-pointer with 2:37 left gave Portland a 103-100 lead.

A 3 by forward Thompson got Philly to within 104-103. Portland forward Harkless made a free throw with 46.5 seconds remaining to make the score 105-103. Then Philadelphia guard Smith nailed a 15-foot jumper to tie the game with 23.9 seconds to go.

“You walk away feeling like we could’ve stole a win on the road,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Brown came into the rematch concerned about Portland’s backcourt, wide-open game and 3-point prowess, and already thinking about seeing more of the same Sunday night at Golden State. “The style of play is similar (between the Blazers and Warriors) — it’s a track meet, lots of 3s, it’s pace and open court,” he said.

But it was the Blazers’ inside game that got them off to a good start. Their starting front line of Aminu, Harkless and Mason Plumlee (who finished with 10 rebounds and eight points) was 6 of 8 from the field for 17 points in a 24-14 opening seven minutes.

Portland finished the first quarter with a 31-27 lead, with Lillard deferring to and setting up his teammates (two points, 1-for-4 field-goal shooting, five assists).

The 76ers were the ones more in love with the outside shot. Midway through the second quarter, the Sixers were 4 of 16 from 3-point range, taking half their shots from beyond the arc, while the Blazers had a 22-10 edge in points in the paint and a 43-38 lead.

McCollum scored eight straight Portland points, then went to the bench for a break, as the Blazers continued to control the defensive boards and flow of the game (Philadelphia finished the half with three offensive rebounds and two second-chance points).

At intermission, the Blazers led 57-49 and were at 51.2 percent from the field. Philadelphia was shooting 39.5 percent. McCollum (13 points) and Aminu (11) led the Portland offense.

The Blazers stretched their lead to 16 points in the third quarter and were on top 86-74 going into the final frame.

In the fourth quarter, the 76ers hit 52.4 perent from the field, including 4 of 9 from behind the 3-point line. That gave them their biggest lead of the night, and more than a slight chance of a big upset.

"We didn't find people in transition," said Stotts, who had said the same thing before tip-off about what led to Portland's loss to the 76ers in Philadelphia.

Philly finished at 41.9 percent from the field (10 of 38 from 3-point range). Portland shot 41.8 percent (8 of 25 on 3-pointers).

“We played well. We played hard,” Smith said. "It's a learning experience, as crazy as that sounds. It's tough to win in the NBA, and that's a really good team, probably going to get into the playoffs."

NOTES: Stotts, a four-year college starter at Oklahoma (1976-80) was happy to talk before the game about his Sooners, who had just beaten Oregon in the NCAA Elite Eight. “I’m really happy players for their players and coaches,” said Stotts, who once worked as an assistant to Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger when both were with the Atlanta Hawks. The Sooners will meet Villanova in the Final Four. “It’s going to be tough,” Stotts said, at the time perhaps expecting a Kansas victory instead of the Villanova upset. “Savor the moment now.” ... Philadelphia forward Nerlens Noel (bruised knee) was out. ... The Blazers will play the rest of the season without forward Meyers Leonard, who has pending shoulder surgery. "Since January, he was a big part of our success. His effectiveness at both ends improved,” Stotts said. … Saturday’s game marked the start of a key four-game homestand for the Blazers, who could wind up anywhere from fifth in the NBA Western Conference playoff order or out of the postseason. Portland will play host to Sacramento on Monday, Boston on Thursday and Miami on Saturday. … The 76ers are 4-27 since beating Portland. ...Brown raved before the game about Lillard, who was 4 of 18 from the field and scored only 14 points in the January game at Philadelphia. “I love the way he plays,” Brown said. “You start strategizing, trying to find a weakness — but he can go to his left or right, he can drive — I credit him, and I credit Terry, for what they’ve been able to do. In many ways, I think (the Blazers) have overachieved.” ... Philadelphia started a totally different front court on Saturday than in the previous game with the Blazers, with 6-9 Carl Landry at center in place of Jahlil Okafor (knee), who had 25 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Portland.

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