Denver head coach Mike Malone has credited CJ McCollum with putting the Portland Trail Blazers 'on his back' during their Game 7 victory over the Nuggets.
McCollum scored 37 points, including a fadeaway jumper with 11.4 seconds remaining, as the Blazers rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to beat the Nuggets 100-96 in their Western Conference semi-final decider on Sunday.
As the Blazers' All-Star guard Damian Lillard struggled to 13 points on 3-17 shooting, McCollum picked up the slack, going 17-29 from the floor to inspire his team for victory.
"CJ McCollum showed why they have one of the best backcourts in the NBA," Malone said.
"(He) put his team on his back and made big play after big play."
McCollum, who also had nine rebounds, made a series of trademark tough shots to keep the shorthanded Blazers afloat, after they lost Rodney Hood to injury during the second half.
Lillard deservedly drew many accolades for his opening-round performances against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but was content to take a back seat with McCollum on form.
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"I thought the game opened up a lot because of what CJ was doing, getting downhill, getting into the paint," Lillard said.
"I just tried to focus on making the right plays. CJ had it going and I think when I see him in that type of zone, I'm not going to shy away from the game, I'm going to still be involved in the game."
Having reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2000, the Blazers will face the Golden State Warriors.
For the Blazers to have a chance of advancing against the two-time reigning champions, they will likely need both McCollum and Lillard at their best.
"It's a luxury to have two guys like that who can find different ways to score in different ways," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
"CJ does it one way, Dame does it in another. On a night when Dame struggled shooting the ball, CJ came up big."
The Trail Blazers face the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in the early hours of Wednesday morning, live on Sky Sports Arena.