Bypassed by the Timberwolves in the 2013 draft because they deemed him too small and not defensive-minded enough, Portland guard CJ McCollum was plenty good enough Sunday in Portland’s 95-89 comeback victory at Target Center.
Moved to point guard for the fourth consecutive game while All-Star Damian Lillard is injured, McCollum scored 43 points — a career high — for a team that had won just two of its previous 13 games but now is 2-2 with Lillard out because of an ankle injury.
Two nights after the Wolves handily beat Milwaukee with their offense, they blew another 14-point lead just before halftime and were undone by another lopsided third quarter in which Portland outscored them 32-15.
“Well,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, “it went quickly.”
On Friday, the Wolves recorded 30 assists on 43 made baskets while beating the Bucks by 17 points.
On Sunday, Andrew Wiggins (24 points) went 4-for-6 from the field in the quarter while Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad shot a combined 0-for-14. Zach LaVine didn’t take a shot.
Thibodeau stuck with his starters for the second half’s first 7½ minutes, even after his bench had played well in the first half. The Blazers turned a 49-37 halftime deficit into a lead during that stretch.
Afterward, Thibodeau lamented his team’s lack of discipline after halftime, its lack of defense and an unwillingness to move the ball while his players looked for the “home-run pass” instead.
He also called the night a “total breakdown.”
“Winning is hard: being consistent and understanding how to approach your job, what it takes to win and the discipline and effort and concentration that is required,” He said. “ If you have a 12-, 14-point lead, you have to be able to count on your defense. Making shots will come and go, but it’s your defense. Leads go quickly because one goes with the other.”
The Trail Blazers ratcheted their defense after they allowed 49 first-half points and after coach Terry Stotts reminded his players at halftime they were trying too little and complaining to the officials too much.
“We were being soft as a team, and it showed in our performance,” McCollum said. “We knew we had to compete, and it starts at the defensive end.”
The Blazers defended tougher after halftime and McCollum was nearly unstoppable, even though Thibodeau played Kris Dunn for the entire fourth quarter while Rubio watched because of Dunn’s defense and because of his inspired play until then.
“I just liked his energy tonight,” Thibodeau said of Dunn. “I thought he was playing well. I was looking for anything, and he sort of got us going again.”
It wasn’t enough Sunday, not after McCollum scored 31 in the first three quarters, not after his clutch three-point shot pushed the Wolves back after they drew within 83-82 with 4:13 left, and not after he dribbled time off the clock and then scored inside, pushing the Wolves back again for good with 34 seconds left.
Then-Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders traded their No. 9 overall pick in 2013 to Utah for the 14th and 21st picks, swapping Trey Burke’s rights for Shabazz Muhammad and Dieng. In doing so, McCollum fell to Portland with the 10th pick.
“I had a workout here,” McCollum said. “That was when Flip was still here, rest in peace. But I’ve moved forward. I’m a Portland Trail Blazer and I’m happy where I am in life and I just have to work hard and take advantage of the blessing they put in front of me here.”