Kanter plays through separated shoulder in win

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Much like his Portland Trail Blazers did as a team, center Enes Kanter got the last word against his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates and coaches after Portland's series-ending 118-115 win Tuesday night.

"CAN play Kanter," he tweeted less than an hour after Damian Lillard's 37-foot 3-pointer gave the Blazers a 4-1 series victory. That comment was in reference to an infamous video from Game 1 of the Thunder's 2017 first-round series against the Houston Rockets, when the TNT broadcast caught Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan appearing to say "Can't play Kanter" following a Rockets score.

Donovan later explained to reporters that the comment was taken out of context in a discussion of pick-and-roll coverages, but Kanter played only 29 minutes over the remaining four games of the series. This time around, Kanter -- a midseason pickup by the Blazers -- started in place of injured Portland center Jusuf Nurkic and averaged 29.3 minutes per game in the series, as well as 13.2 points and 10.2 rebounds.

Kanter did so during Tuesday's Game 5 while playing through a separated left shoulder suffered in the first quarter. He received an injection in the shoulder at halftime and gutted his way through 32 minutes despite clearly being pain at times.

"I just tried to play through it," Kanter said afterward. "We'll see what happens in the future."

The Blazers will have at least through Saturday off as they await the winner of the Denver-San Antonio series, which the Nuggets lead 3-2 heading into Thursday's Game 6, as their next opponent. For now, teammates and coaches were impressed with Kanter's ability to play with pain.

"Even with the pain, he was posting up," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We played through him a little bit in the fourth quarter. He got some big rebounds but the toughness he showed, I think it's a little indicative of our team, the fact that everybody does whatever they can to get a win."

Said Lillard: "Even after he got fouled and hurt his shoulder, he came down and hit free throws. It was just a grind-it-out game. I think from top to bottom, everybody who touched the floor tonight showed toughness. He was one of the main guys that did."

The Blazers were only able to sign Kanter after the New York Knicks waived him midseason, having previously benched the 26-year-old center in favor of younger alternatives. After Tuesday's game, Kanter showed his gratitude for that opportunity.

"First of all, I have to definitely thank the Knicks for waiving me," he said to laughter from the assembled media. "That would never happen if they didn't waive me, so I want to appreciate the whole Knicks organization. Then I want to appreciate all the teams that didn't pick me. I tried to actually sign with lots of teams that weren't really interested.

"I'm glad that Dame and GM Neil [Olshey] texted me and I picked Portland. It was definitely amazing. It was a blessing."

If not for joining the Blazers, Kanter might not have had the opportunity to prove his playoff ability, having missed the postseason last year in New York. After Game 1, he said he talked with Donovan after the infamous "Can't play him" quote and accepted his coach's explanation. But with Portland moving on and his former team heading home, Kanter's tweet said everything about the satisfaction this victory provided.