When you glance at the schedule and see Trae Young heading to Portland for a date with the Trail Blazers, you’d be justified if you expected a scoring duel between him and one of their dynamic guards. Young held up his end on the bargain on Monday. He exploded for a career-high 56 points to give the Hawks the lead through three quarters, and with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum out, it certainly didn’t look like Portland had enough firepower to keep up with him on one of the best nights of his career.
But when the dust settled, Portland escaped with a 136-131 victory thanks to a similarly dominating outing from a lesser-known guard. With Lillard and McCollum out, it was Anfernee Simons who saved the day with 43 points of his own. That’s a new career high for Simons, but what makes this night truly special for the young guard are the circumstances he was playing through. After the game, Simons revealed that his grandfather died of cancer Sunday.
“I really can’t take credit for how well I played tonight,” Simons said while getting mobbed by teammates. “I was just going out there and playing my game. I got a couple of shots to go in. Like I said I really can’t take it today. Sadly, my grandpa died yesterday of cancer. It’s all him, honestly. I give credit to him. I dedicated this whole game to him. Like I said I can’t take credit tonight, it was all him.”
Portland desperately needed the victory with Lillard and McCollum out. They entered the game 13-22 in 12th place in the Western Conference. The win brought them within a game of the No. 10 seed and a spot in the play-in round of the postseason in what has been a disappointing season thus far. With questions spiraling about Portland’s future as the losses have piled up, Simons, who is set for restricted free agency this offseason, is making a compelling case that he should be part of it moving forward.