Portland Trail Blazers: Ranking CJ McCollum’s Game 7 among history’s best

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

One year ago today, Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum produced one of the great Playoff performances in history. Where does it rank among Game 7 showings of this decade?

The Denver Nuggets were well on their way. On their official website, tickets to the Western Conference Finals were already in pre-sale. Hold on to a 17-point lead with 31 minutes left — ten commercial breaks — and the voucher was punched.  But CJ McCollum had other plans. Somewhere between an Allen Iverson-type shiftiness and “Kobeeee” midrange pull-up flicks, the Nuggets defense had no choice but to crumple.

Those tickets turned out to a lot of wasted paper.

One year from the date, that Game 7 remains in Portland Trail Blazers’ lore. In that 100-96 victory, McCollum poured in 37 points — a number only four players this decade have surpassed in a decisive Game 7 — to go with nine rebounds and not a single turnover.

Along the way, he drained 17 field goals, tied with Iverson for the most in a Game 7 in this generation. The fashion in which he got it was anachronistic in this analytics-friendly era; isolations, flattened offensives, and shots in the “forbidden area.”

Consider this shot chart. It always gave me quite a kick that all three of CJ McCollum’s backbreakers in the last three minutes all game from the same distance — 16-feet, according to Basketball Reference’s play-by-play data.

Or, if that’s too much green for you, maybe this one tells more of the story.

It’s a healthy discussion to have, especially given the amount of fans who want the star guard gone from the Blazers, should a “better” offer come up. We’ve allowed ourselves to forget: players who can dominate at the crux of a game don’t grow on trees. In the second half alone, CJ McCollum was 10-of-17, nearly hitting more shots than the Nuggets starters alone.

In the 3-point era, only 15 players have ever scored more in the win-or-go-home game.

Scaling that down to just this decade, where we’ve seen 31 different Game 7s, one has to wonder if McCollum’s game will be remembered 50 years from now. It’s certainly a tier below games like: LeBron James’ 2013 Game 7 in the Finals, Kawhi Leonard’s against Philadelphia, Kevin Durant vs. Houston in 2018 and Stephen Curry in that clinching 2016 West Finals game.

But trickle down the line, and maybe his masterpiece in Denver reserves a spot among the top 10?

Metrics wise, CJ McCollum produced a +12.9 box plus-minus, and according to NBA.com’s matchup data, he was — dare I say — a menace on the defensive end?

Nuggets players shot just 3-of-11 from the field against him in that Game Seven, a series of stops that culminated with this block, eerily reminiscent of another big-game competitor from Ohio.

Depending on how much you straddle the line on how important efficiency is, maybe CJ McCollum’s Game Seven gets brownie points ahead of some other memorable Game 7 acts of this decade, think Kobe Bryant’s Game 7 in the 2010 Finals, or James’ 9-of-21, 31-point game in 2012 that sent the Heat to the NBA Finals. Maybe you hold it to higher esteem since he did so on the road in Denver, where the Nuggets had the best home record (34-7) in the entire NBA.

Given the degree of difficulty on the road, the pressure of the years prior, and how steadying a force he was down the stretch, it ranks among the ten best of this decade, if you ask me.

Wherever it lies in the NBA stratosphere will never take away what it meant for the city of Portland. It made up for the pain of back-to-back sweeps, and definitively silenced critics about potential trades.

As he’s wont to do, McCollum’s always had a way of putting things into perspective, be it in win or loss. After being swept by New Orleans, he delivered one of those statements you remember forever, per the Woj Pod:

"“I told my mom we were going to win in 6. No way we were going to go 7. They punched us in the mouth in Game 1, got in our refrigerator, drunk up our orange juice, put their mouth on the lid, and left an inch.”"

One year later, the McCollum and the Blazers had their turn to sip.

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For a while, it looked as though Portland and its fans could taste a championship. And while they came a few possessions short of making it a real discussion, what McCollum did on the afternoon of May 12, 2019, ensures he’ll be remembered in some way, shape, or form.