New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum makes emotional return to Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In the second quarter of Wednesday's game between the Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans, CJ McCollum was called for an offensive foul.

As it has done many times before, the crowd inside Portland's Moda Center began to boo, disagreeing with the call.

The difference this time is McCollum isn't a member of the Trail Blazers anymore. He was playing for the Pelicans this time, his first game back in Portland since the trade that sent him away from the only franchise he'd known for the first 8½ years of his career.

"That's just love. That's love," McCollum said with a smile after the game. "That was really funny. I was appreciative of that."

What did he think of the call itself, though?

"I didn't think it was a charge either," he added.

It was just one moment in what turned out to be an emotional night for McCollum in his return to Portland. The emotions started early when for nearly two minutes prior to the game, the fans at Moda Center let McCollum know how much he meant to them.

After receiving loud cheers and a standing ovation once he came out of the tunnel for pregame warm-ups, those cheers grew even louder when McCollum was announced with the Pelicans' starting lineup prior to New Orleans' 117-107 win.

Portland introduced McCollum as the fifth and final starter and allowed him to receive a well-deserved reception. Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. -- himself a former Trail Blazer -- raised his arms and encouraged the fans to keep it up.

"It kept going," McCollum said. "It was like a national anthem when they keep going and dragging the letters out. It was really cool. I'm appreciative and thankful. They showed a lot of love."

As happy as McCollum was to see the support from the Trail Blazers faithful, he was equally pleased that the experience was over.

"I'm glad it's over. I'm tired. Emotionally and physically drained. I'm glad it's over. I'm looking forward to getting to the next city and trying to get some more wins before we wrap things up," he said.

Pelicans coach Willie Green called the reception "beautiful."

"It speaks to who CJ is and what he's meant to this organization, the fans, the people here," Green said. "Just recognizing all that CJ means and what he's done in the community here. The way he treats folks. It was pretty awesome to see."

McCollum came out aggressive in the first quarter, scoring 14 of his game-high 25 points in the opening frame. Both he and the team tailed off after the quick start, however. The Blazers led at halftime and the Pelicans didn't take the lead for good until late in the third quarter.

McCollum said the weight of everything started to get to him after the quick start.

"It was tough, I got off to a good start, then I was just tired," McCollum said. "I almost air-balled a free throw. It's like physically draining. Mentally draining. This is a lot to go through. You try and get up for the game and keep a routine and it's just a lot going on."

With the win behind them, the Pelicans will look to continue trying to build momentum on the four-game road trip. New Orleans travels to Los Angeles for games against the Lakers on Friday and the Clippers on Sunday before finishing the trip against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.

Wednesday's win over the Blazers gave the Pelicans a 1½-game lead over the Lakers in the play-in race. New Orleans currently holds the No. 9 seed.