Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum insists his teammates will retain their unwavering focus after moving to the brink of the Western Conference semifinals.
McCollum scored 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting as the Blazers opened up a 3-1 series lead over the Thunder with an 111-98 win Sunday in Game 4.
A win Tuesday in Portland would see the Blazers advance, and McCollum is ready to stay above the fray when it comes to trash talk.
“I think we’re a lot more mature than we were in past years,” McCollum told reporters. “We can handle adversity and understand what we want to accomplish.
“We didn’t want anything to get in the way, we didn’t want anything to interfere with that. Multiple times we had discussions about not saying anything to anyone.
“If they’re not wearing a black or gray jersey, don’t talk to them. Don’t talk to the refs, don’t talk to the other team and let’s get out of here with a win
“That was our mindset. Having been through what we’ve been through historically, we understand what we need to do, who we need to talk to and how we need to execute.”
“I take this game very seriously. I put my heart and soul into it. I’ve sacrificed a lot to get to this point, & I’m thankful that I was able to go through those struggles cause it made me a better person.” – @CJMcCollum pic.twitter.com/FFoSi3kDcx
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 22, 2019
The Blazers were beaten 4-0 in the first round against the Pelicans last year, after having suffered the same fate against the Warriors in 2017 — setbacks that act as enduring motivation for McCollum.
“We got swept last year. It was really embarrassing, and everybody talked about it,” he said. “It was on TV every day. They talked about us getting swept, they talked about me getting traded, talked about how we can’t win together.
“We remember, and we know that feeling of going home early.”
Barring a stunning turnaround, it will be the Thunder and Russell Westbrook heading home early.
Westbrook, OKC’s star guard, finished Sunday’s game by missing 10 straight shots and relied heavily on his jump shot throughout, taking only three shots in the paint and missing each one.
“I get deep paint any time I want, but I always make the right play,” Westbrook said, as quoted by ESPN.
“So, when I’m in deep paint I find guys on the perimeter. My job is to make sure guys get the basketball.
“I don’t need to shoot a layup every single time. But I’m in the paint all game, and that’s how it goes sometimes.
“Shot attempts is not the only thing that I can do to make sure I’m in it for the defense and kick it out to make open shots.”