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NBA

Enes Kanter after breakout Game 1: 'I was on the worst team in the league and I wasn't even playing'

When the Portland Trail Blazers' starting centre Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending leg injury at the end of March, most counted this team out.

It was known that it would take a group effort filling in for Nurkic on both ends of the court, but it was also clear that backup centre Enes Kanter would be called upon to take the bulk of those minutes.

After Game 1 of their first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Blazers have to be feeling pretty good about their Nurkic replacement.

Kanter was stellar in the series opener - the offensive-minded big man went for a double-double of 20 points and 18 rebounds, with seven of those boards coming off the offensive glass.

He logged 35 minutes, shot 8-for-15 from the field, added two assists, two blocks and a steal to his stat sheet and finished the contest with a game-best plus-15 plus/minus.

"He was the MVP of the game," Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard told the media following the win.

MORE: Takeaways from Trail Blazers close win over Thunder

Kanter had some extra animosity against a team he spent two and a half seasons with, including the 2017 team that came one game away from beating the Golden State Warriors and reaching the NBA Finals.

In the 2017 offseason, Kanter was a part of the trade between the Thunder and New York Knicks that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City.

Kanter had a good first year in New York, averaging 14.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, but this season - his second season with the Knicks - did not go as planned.

He played in 44 games, averaging similar numbers to his first season in New York but eventually fell out of the Knicks' rotation, resulting in a trade request.

Fast forward a few months to his first postseason appearance with the Trail Blazers, and things are going a whole lot better.

"I was on the worst team in the league and I wasn't even playing," Kanter told the media after his breakout Game 1. "They thought I was too old to play and with all the drama and everything, it was just frustrating because all I wanted to do was go out there and win."

Winning didn't come easy in New York as the Knicks went 39-96 during Kanter's time with the franchise. He now finds himself in a key role for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference trying to push this team as far as they can go.

"A couple days ago I looked in the mirror like, 'Man, I am blessed to just be here with an amazing organization, with amazing teammates and they trust in me,'" Kanter preached with relief. "It feels amazing and I feel very blessed and I really appreciate it.

He'll have another opportunity to show out in his new role for his team on Wednesday when the Trail Blazers and Thunder return to action for Game 2.

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