.@brandonclarke23 finished his first season shooting 61.8% from the field, setting an @NBA rookie record for field goal percentage (qualified for the NBA’s FG% leaderboard).— Grizzlies PR (@GrizzliesPR) August 15, 2020
The previous record was held by Steve Johnson, who shot 61.3% for the Kansas City Kings in 1981-82.
The Portland Trail Blazers have secured the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs after a 126-122 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA's first-ever play-in game. Portland looked like it was going to pull away early in this game, however, the young Grizzlies were able to keep pace with the high-scoring Trail Blazers. A standout performance from CJ McCollum in the fourth quarter, where the guard put up 14 points in the final frame of action, essentially sealed the win for Portland. Instead of Damian Lillard going off in the fourth quarter, it was McCollum who took over, showing that this team is far more than just Lillard's brilliance.
Memphis held a five-point lead with just under eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies weren't able to force a second play-in game tomorrow. Even with four Memphis players scoring 20-plus points, mistakes down the stretch and lack of experience ended up spoiling the Grizzlies plans.
With the win, the Trail Blazers will take on the Lakers in the first round of the West playoffs, with the first game of that series tipping off on Tuesday. Here are three takeaways from Portland's win.
1. CJ McCollum's fourth-quarter outburst
McCollum has been playing with a fracture in his back for the past few games for the Portland Trail Blazers, and while its limited his performance recently, the guard was able to break free in today's game against the Grizzlies. When most of Memphis' attention was focused on stopping — or containing — Lillard, McCollum was able to get his shot off with a bit more space. On several possessions he toyed with the rookie Morant for a smooth setback jumper, once even exclaiming "he can't f------ hold me," as Memphis called a timeout.
I mean this is just insane. Yes, it's against Morant, who isn't exactly a dominant defender, but McCollum is just making him dance on this play. He went between his legs then behind his back twice before sinking the stepback 3-pointer, and he made it all look effortless. McCollum went 4-of-7 from downtown, and poured in 29 points, more than carrying his load in this win. In a must-win game for the Trail Blazers, McCollum came up huge, giving Lillard a break from having to pull off all the late-game heroics. After the game, when asked how much he had left in the tank with his back, and he said he "has a lot left." That should bode well for Portland, as its certainly going to need his scoring and 3-point shooting when it takes on the Lakers on Tuesday.
2. A true team win for Portland
Prior to this game, Portland's last three games have mainly come down to huge performances from Lillard, who was averaging 51 points entering today's matchup. Eventually, the Blazers were going to run into a team that was going to double their All-Star point guard, or at the very least keep him in check, which is what Memphis did for the majority of the game. Lillard still racked up 31 points, but for the majority of the afternoon, Dillon Brooks was attached at the hip to Lillard, never allowing him to break free for an easy bucket and fighting over screens so he couldn't get off a 3-pointer.
It resulted in Portland having to rely on others around him to put up points, and it worked. McCollum obviously had a great game, but the performances from Jusuf Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony also played a huge role in this team's win. Anthony's 3-pointer with 21 seconds left to extend Portland's lead to six points essentially sealed the victory for the Blazers, and Nurkic's first-half performance, where he tacked on 15 points and an absurd 17 rebounds helped keep the lead for Portland as Lillard was being pounced on defensively. While Lillard's 50-point performances are something to behold, the Blazers cannot expect him to do that every game, especially in the postseason, and most definitely not against a defensive-minded team like the Lakers. This win today showed that this team can win in other ways aside from Dame going full superhero to will this team to a victory.
3. Bright future for the Grizzlies
It might be hard for Memphis to take anything away from this game, but this team should leave the bubble with a positive outlook for the future. Keep in mind this team was down Jaren Jackson Jr., who they could've desperately used in the post against Nurkic and his shooting to give Morant another weapon to go to. But seriously, this team was far ahead of schedule already, because no one ever expected that they would even come close to the playoffs, much less be in a play-in game for the final postseason spot. It's bittersweet, because Memphis entered the bubble as the eighth seed, meaning they would've only needed to beat the No. 9 seed once to advance, instead of having to win both today and tomorrow to do so, but that injury to Jackson was a huge blow to overcome for this team. Looking ahead, though, Memphis has a lot to be proud of, and it doesn't just stop at Morant's career-high 35 points.
Fellow rookie Brandon Clarke played the best game of his young career, blocking shots in the paint, grabbing a couple of boards and going 4-for-5 from deep, to finish the game with 20 points. Dillon Brooks put on a heck of a performance on both ends of the floor, being tasked with tracking Lillard all game and piling on 20 points of his own. It's a shame that Memphis wasn't at full strength for this game, but this team has a lot to build with going forward.