LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla – Ninety-one seconds in the fourth quarter of a game that would decide the fate of the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard took a step more than halfway through the trial and launched a 3-pointer that felt like it was traveling halfway. of the Road to Oregon.
Like many of Lillard̵7;s other great games over the past two weeks, the ball easily fell off his feet. In response, the Brooklyn Nets called the closing time. And while the Blazers were still trailing by four at that point, it felt inevitable that Lillard – the undisputed MVP of this NBA bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort – would find a way to save Portland once again.
In the end, he did just that, finishing with 42 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to elevate Portland to a heart-stopping 134-133 victory over the Nets, and with the Blazers winning the eighth seed in the Western Conference and a place this weekend in the first tournament played in the NBA.
“I just did not want to be too passive,” Lillard said afterwards. “So, as I was pulling the ball up, I said, ‘As soon as I see an opportunity, I’ll get up.’
It was a predominant blow – just like many others Lillard has thrown within the last two weeks in Portland leadership to a 6-2 record, allowing the Blazers to finish a game half ahead of their opponent in the game – Memphis Grizzlies. round this weekend, and the Phoenix Suns. And Portland need each of them, as Lillard scored 51 points to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 61 points to beat the Dallas Mavericks and now 42 points to beat the nets – games the Blazers won by seven combined points.
“We need everyone [those points]Said Blazers coach Terry Stotts with a smile.
He was not kidding, as Lillard became the first player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in three consecutive games, his team winning by three or fewer points, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But when the Stotts met his team after Thursday night’s game, it was not Lillard from the half-court he showed the team, nor was he the 3-pointer of Gary Trent Jr.’s big corner. with 3 two pointers with over two minutes to play that gave Portland the lead or the composition of Jusuf Nurkic or the main middle throw of CJ McCollum that followed him.
Instead, he showed the team a pair of games: Lillard sinking to the floor in half-time for a loose ball, and Nurkic doing the same at the start to secure a defensive comeback.
“These are the things we have to do to win games,” Stotts said. “Those shows, those two shows, made a difference.”
As a result, Portland has found its way into the inaugural League play-in tournament, where, as the eighth seed, the Blazers need to win just one of two possible play-by-play games (Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at ABC and Sunday at 4:30 pm ET (ESPN) in order to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have to win both games to make the post-season.
As the two play-off teams looking to win on Thursday – the Grizzlies and the Suns – scored victories against impoverished Milwaukee Bucks and Mavericks teams, respectively, preparing for the play-offs, the Blazers took a full effort from networks.
Brooklyn will play the Toronto Raptors starting Tuesday in the first round of the playoffs, but after the Nets have had boys inside and outside the lineup over the past few weeks, they chose to play their full rotation its typical division minutes in order to be ready.
“We will have our starting line-up that we have had the last games in the pair and see how those boys progress,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said before the match. “We will monitor those guys – but it is up to us to have a pace and a kind of progress as we lead the play offs.
“So we will evaluate the game, we will see what the game gives, but those guys have the mental composition now that they are playing a competitive basketball game.”
The Nets kept that focus on everyone after Caris LeVert (37 points on a 16-for-29 shot with 9 assists) led Brooklyn to a 10-point lead late in the third quarter. The Nets as a team fired a scorching 59.7% from the field through three quarters against Portland’s flammable defense, which entered Thursday’s game ranking 21st in defensive efficiency.
But Portland, as it did against Philadelphia and Dallas, fought back and took the lead with 1 minute, 45 seconds remaining in a formation by Nurkic that made it 132-130 Blazers, and McCollum doubled the lead with a free throw of throwing the ball with 53.4 seconds left after a furious sequence in which Nurkic and Lillard both pigeon into those loose balls.
The Blazers gave up a plethora of attacking attacks in the fourth, however, and it looked like they would return to cost Portland dearly when LeVert scored against Nurkic, plus pulled a foul, 37.7 seconds to the left, cutting Portland’s lead. in 134-133.
Portland had a chance to sign the game when Carmelo Anthony had a wide eye on the corner, which was going to push the lead to four, but Anthony lost. Brooklyn then came down and chose to play for the win, with LeVert isolated against McCollum – whom he had mercilessly attacked in the fourth quarter.
But even though LeVert threw a quality kick, it went loving, and Portland was able to breathe a great sigh.
“When it comes to shooting, I just try to read the defense,” LeVert said. “I feel like they were playing the car, I have to look at it again, but these are shots I practice every day and so I will live with that kick.”
None of this will matter to Portland. Instead, the focus for the Blazers will be on just trying to rest and recover for Saturday’s game against Memphis – and, potentially, the game with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers waiting behind it.
If anyone thinks Portland is celebrating its achievements to reach the play-off round, think again. Blazers have bigger things in mind.
“I would say we were happy [and] released. We are excited to be in the play-off round. [But] “It’s not like we were jumping up and down,” Stotts said.
“We’re where we wanted to be. I don’t think anyone has crossed the moon now. We know we got a tough opponent in Memphis, so there was no real time to celebrate.”
Instead of celebrating, Lillard had something else in mind: a postgame ice bath to begin preparing his body for Saturday’s showdown with the Grizzlies. But he said his mind was already rare to go.
“I will always be mentally ready,” Lillard said. “I’m never worried about that.”