Mad and hot, Blazers take out their frustrations on Philadelphia
Jusuf Nurkic got mad, Shabazz Napier got hot and the Trail Blazers rallied from an 18-point third-quarter deficit to pull out an improbable — and sorely needed — victory Thursday night at Moda Center.
Nurkic scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter after getting busted in the nose and leaving early in the third quarter. Napier missed his first six shots from the field, then made seven of his final eight attempts to finish with a season-high 23 points for the Blazers, who outscored the 76ers 42-25 in the fourth quarter en route to a 114-110 win.
CJ McCollum bombed in 34 points to lead the Trail Blazers (18-16), who snapped a six-game home losing streak with an injured Damian Lillard watching from the sidelines for the third straight game with a sore right hamstring.
"A hell of a win, a hell of a fourth quarter," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "After he came back (late in the third quarter), 'Nurk' played with a lot of passion and energy. Shabazz got off to a slow start, but he sparked us in the second half.
"The way we defended in the fourth quarter was outstanding. It was a win that we needed, and I liked how we did it."
It looked like the Blazers were headed for a winless December at home when the 76ers (15-19) outscored them 27-8 over the first eight minutes of the third quarter to go in front 78-60.
By that point, Nurkic had gone to the locker room to get a butterfly bandage over the laceration on his nose. He came back with a vengeance late in the third quarter, and played his best basketball in some time down the stretch as he battled Philadelphia center Joel Embiid tooth and nose, er, nail.
"I was mad," Nurkic said. "The more I get mad, I play better."
Was he mad at Embiid, who delivered the blow?
"At everybody," said the 7-foot Bosnian, who grabbed 12 rebounds. "I was trying to kill everybody almost, in a good way. I had one thing in my mind when I went back out there — how we were going to win the game."
The 7-foot Embiid had 29 points and nine rebounds and sank 6 of 12 shots from 3-point range. Nurkic matched his energy in the fourth quarter, and then some.
"I respect him," Nurkic said. "He's a good player. He's a skilled player, but it looked like he was getting tired. When you attack him, he gets tired more.
"I know exactly what he wanted to do, so I could contest his shots. When you have a post player who shoots that many outside shots, I'm going to live with that."
McCollum said he wishes Nurkic got angry more often.
"I love 'Mad Nurk,'" McCollum said. "He does a lot of different things we need. Nurk was great after he got his nose broke. Down the stretch, he did a great job of guarding Joel down on the block without fouling."
Nurkic picked up his fifth foul 26 seconds into the the fourth quarter. Stotts chose to leave him in the game. Nurkic played all but nine seconds of the quarter.
"He'd just made a couple of good plays," Stotts said. "I didn't want him to lose the momentum. If you take him out and he comes back, he might not have it. I felt like we'd ride him to see how it played out."
Napier, getting his second start of the season in place of Lillard, was 0 for 5 from the field and scoreless at halftime. He was a more aggressive, more effective player in the second half, keying a 19-0 run that pushed the Blazers into the lead midway through the final period.
"I just continued to play and think positive," he said. "The good thing about basketball — they say you have a game the next day, but you also have two halves.
"I was lethargic out there the first half; it couldn't get any worse. I went out there and tried to be positive about it and look forward to the next half."
McCollum was solid throughout the game, scoring 18 points in the first half and 16 in the second. He was 14 for 14 from the foul line, leading the Blazers' to a gigantic advantage there — 36 for 47 to Philadelphia's 10 for 14.
"The basketball gods were looking out for us," McCollum said. "We got into the bonus early. We took advantage of the hand-checking and bumping. We were penetrating and, a lot of times, (the 76ers) were forced to foul."
McCollum was happy to break the losing streak at home.
"You never want to go through lulls where you lose five, six, seven games in a row," he said. "They start talking about your maturity, about your effort."
The Sixers seemed shellshocked after losing a game they thought they had in the bag.
"It's a disappointing loss," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. "We had an opportunity without Damian being in there, and we got up 18 points. But give (the Blazers) credit. They did not roll over."
NOTES: Nurkic, asked if his banged-up nose (it wasn't broken) might affect his modeling career: "It worked out pretty well tonight. I'm still cute." .. . Embiid, asked what the 76ers could have done to win the game: "Stop turning the ball over and play better defense without fouling. And maybe get some calls going our way, too. (The Blazers) were getting everything." Portland's 42-point fourth quarter was its highest-scoring quarter of the season. … McCollum's 34 points were two shy of his season high. … The Blazers finished 1-5 at home in the month of December. … The 76ers lost despite shooting .500 (16 for 32) from 3-point range and outscoring the Blazers by 24 points from beyond the arc. … Dario Saric chipped in 25 points on 10-for-12 shooting and had nine boards for the 76ers, who lost for the sixth time in seven outings.
The Blazers are 8-10 at home and 10-6 on the road. The last time they finished below .500 at home was in 2006-07 (18-23). Asked before the game if he'd ever coached a team with such a disparity between home and road wins, Stotts answered, "No." Asked to expound, he said this: "It's still early. We're only 33 games into it. If it maintains to the end of the season, then that would mean something. During our home losing streak, every (opponent) has been over .500. The competition has been good. It's discouraging that we don't have a better record at home, but there are a lot of games to be played."
Brown said with Embiid in the lineup, the 76ers are ranked third in the NBA in defensive efficiency and sixth in offensive efficiency. In the seven games in which the Sixers have played without their star center, they are 29th defensively and 21st offensively. "It's night and day," Brown said. "And we're still growing. We have a 6-10 forward who we made a point guard (Ben Simmons) and is in his 34th game there tonight. It's all part of it. It's a challenge. Growing Jo to where he can actually practice with the team (as he did Wednesday) is a goal. He is our crown jewel, that's the bottom line. We're excited he has played as much as he has this season. That wouldn't have been on the cards if you'd made me guess in the preseason. So there is a silver lining, and he is getting better."