Former Utah Jazz players Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter played key roles in helping the Portland Trail Blazers advance to the Western Conference Finals.
On Sunday, it was CJ McCollum who was the hero in the Portland Trail Blazers’ big, Game 7 win over the Denver Nuggets. In 45 minutes of play, McCollum dropped 37 points on 17-of-29 shooting to seal the deal and send his team to the Western Conference Finals. However, the Blazers never would have gotten this far without a couple of former Utah Jazz players.
Make no mistake about it — Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter have been playoff heroes. But don’t take my word for it, just listen to Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
When asked where his team would be right now if not for the erstwhile Jazzmen, Stotts wasted no time sugar-coating his response. “At home watching television,” he said. “Rodney and Enes, what they’ve given us in both the Oklahoma City series and this series, we wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
He’s not wrong.
Hood’s second-round series may have ended on a sour note with a knee hyper-extension, but it was, nonetheless, the best stretch of postseason ball he’s played yet. Against the Nuggets, the Duke product averaged 15 points and three boards per game, while knocking down 58 percent of his shots from the floor and 50 percent from distance.
Along the way, he was one of Portland’s most clutch players; he hit the game-winner in the Blazers’ quadruple overtime win in Game 3. And in a win-or-go-home situation in Game 6, he scored 25 points and hit 8-of-12 shots.
Meanwhile, Kanter has put up 13 and 10 over 12 playoff games and was key in helping his squad take an early 2-1 series lead over Denver. He had some down games against the Nuggets, too, but also dealt with a separated shoulder and was fasting for Ramadan throughout the series and still managed to put in work.
His efforts have been especially important for the Blazers given the absence of Jusuf Nurkic. He’s helped solidify a depleted frotncourt that many cited as a reason not to back the Blazers’ postseason.
Kanter also gets bonus points for trolling the Nuggets mere minutes after the Game 7 win —
As much as this run by Hood and Kanter has meant to Portland, though, it’s been equally huge for the former Jazzmen. Just a few, short years ago, many thought Hood was in-line for a huge payday when he hit free agency. In the end, his market evaporated after a tough run in Cleveland. Now, however, it feels as though he’ll have his fair share callers when free agency begins on July 1.
So, too, should Kanter, who has done his damndest to disprove the notion that his lack of defensive prowess precludes him from being a key cog in a winning program.
We’ll find out whether their recent turnarounds will be enough to get them paydays this summer. But in my eyes, they’ve probably earned them.