By ERIK GARCÍA GUNDERSEN, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — CJ McCollum received a 90-second standing ovation in his first visit to Portland since a February trade to New Orleans, then scored 25 points to lead the Pelicans over the Trail Blazers 117-107 Wednesday night.
“It was cool out there to see the love,” McCollum said after the game. “The standing ovation, it was special to be part of it. Myself, my family, we will probably never forget it.”
The Pelicans lead the Los Angeles Lakers by 1 1/2 games for the ninth spot in the Western Conference, which would put them into a play-in postseason game.
Fans hailed McCollum during lineup intros, and he received several more ovations and cheers throughout the night. He egged on fans by scoring 14 points in the first quarter, drawing roars with each basket just like he did for the better part of nine seasons in Portland.
“I got off to a good start and then I just got tired,” McCollum said. “I almost air-balled a free throw. I was just physically and mentally drained. I tried to focus on a game but there’s a lot going on. You can’t really explain, it takes your energy away because it’s emotional. I’m glad I was able to go through it and help my team tonight but I’m looking forward to turning the page.”
The love fest for McCollum was such that in the second quarter the Portland crowd booed an offensive foul called against McCollum, giving the Blazers possession.
“That’s love, that was funny. That was really funny,” McCollum said. “I’m appreciative of that. I don’t think it was a charge either.”
McCollum’s 3-pointer with 2:59 left gave New Orleans its biggest lead of the game at 113-100. Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points each, and Jaxson Hayes had 18 for the Pelicans.
“We maintained a decent amount of focus and did what we needed to do to get the win,” McCollum said.
Drew Eubanks led the Blazers with 21 points and nine rebounds.
“CJ, obviously it was emotional for him so he was going get a lot of shots up and make most of them because he’s a great player,” Eubanks said. “I thought we did a good job for the most part on their big 3.”
Despite McCollum’s start, the Blazers led 36-32 after the first quarter. Portland led for most of the second quarter before taking a 54-51 lead into halftime.
After a 3-pointer by Hayes tied it at 54 to start the third quarter, both teams exchanged leads several times. The Pelicans took an 85-82 lead into the 4th quarter.
Portland stayed close for much of the game by outscoring the Pelicans by 24 points from the 3-point line.
Pelicans: Pelicans coach Willie Green wanted to recognize the honor it is for McCollum to received a warm reception. But he understood that the emotions would be a process throughout the game. “Once the game starts it’s a matter of taking a few deep breathes and settle into the game,” he said.
Trail Blazers: Wednesday night was the season debut for forward Didi Louzada and only his sixth NBA game in two seasons. Blazers coach Chauncey Billups is looking forward to seeing what the Blazers have in Louzada, who came over in the McCollum trade. Louzada scored five points in 11 minutes.
Pelicans: At the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.
Trail Blazers: At the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.
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