LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Ninety-one seconds into the fourth half of the match that would determine the fate of the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard took a step across the half-court and released a 3-pointer as if it were halfway to Oregon.
Like so many other notable Lillard plays over the past two weeks, the ball falls gently through the sealing ring. In response, the Brooklyn Nets called timeout. And while the Blazers were still four points behind at the time, it seems inevitable that Lillard ̵1; the undisputed MVP of the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resort – will find a way to save Portland once more.
In the end, he managed to do just that, ending with 42 points – including 12 in the fourth half – to lift Portland to a heart-pounding 134-133 win over the Nets, and bring the Blazers eighth seed in Western Conference and a spot this weekend in the NBA’s first play-in tournament.
“I just don’t want to be too passive,” Lillard said afterwards. “So when I put the ball up, I said, ‘As soon as I see an opportunity, I’ll raise it.'”
It was an absurd shot – just like many others Lillard has thrown in the past two weeks when leading Portland to a 6-2 record, allowing the Blazers to finish the first half against Memphis Grizzlies, their opponents in the match. . -in this weekend, and the Phoenix Suns. And Portland needs all that, 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 – a match the Blazers won with a total of 7 points. .
“We need everything in number [those points]”,” Blazers manager Terry Stotts laughed.
He’s not joking, as Lillard became the first player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in three consecutive games his team won three or less, according to Elias Sports Bureau data. .
But when Stotts met his team after Thursday night’s game, not Lillard’s No. 3 from the half-field he showed the team, nor Gary Trent Jr.’s big corner 3-point shot. with more than two minutes of play that brought Portland. lead either by Jusuf Nurkic’s replacement or CJ McCollum’s key mid-range jumper followed it.
Instead, he showed the team a pair of play: Lillard dived on the floor in the half-court for a loose ball, and Nurkic did the same on the baseline to ensure a defensive rebound.
“Those are the things we have to do to win the game,” Stotts said. “Those two plays, those two plays, make a difference.”
As a result, Portland found its way into the tournament’s first tournament where, as seed eight, Blazers had to win only one of two potential play-in games (Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC and Sunday at 4:30 pm ET on ESPN) to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA knockout round. Grizzlies, on the other hand, had to win both games to finish the season.
While the two teams in the station hunt had won the previous Thursday – Grizzlies and the Suns – having scored victories against the exhausted Milwaukee Bucks and Mavericks, respectively, are preparing for the knockout round. Next, Blazers did his best from the Nets.
Brooklyn will play against the Toronto Raptors starting Tuesday in the first round of the knockout round, but after the Nets have had many in and out of the squad for the past few weeks they have chosen to rotate the entire minute allocation. your typical preparation.
“We’re going to have a starting lineup where we have had the last few games and see how those guys progress,” said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn before the match. “We’ll be watching those people – but that’s how we have the rhythm and progress as we lead into the knockout rounds.
“So we’re going to judge the game, see what the game renders, but those guys have the mental makeover right now that they’re playing a competitive basketball game.”
The Nets maintained that focus throughout, as Caris LeVert (37 points in a 16-to-29 shoot with 9 assists) gave Brooklyn a 10-point lead by the end of the third quarter. The Nets as a squad that shoots 59.7% scorch from the field in three quarters against Portland’s flammable defense, entering Thursday’s ranked 21st in defense efficiency.
But Portland, as it did with both Philadelphia and Dallas, fought back and led with 1 minute 45 seconds left by Nurkic, leading 132-130 Blazers, and McCollum doubling the lead with a free-throw live with 53.4 seconds left after a frenetic streak in which Nurkic and Lillard both plunge into those loose balls.
Blazers, however, gave up countless counter-attacks in the fourth half, and it looked like it would return to cost Portland as LeVert scored against Nurkic, plus one foul, leaving only 37, 7 seconds, cutting Portland’s score to 134-133.
Portland had a chance to open the scoring when Carmelo Anthony had an opener in the far corner that should have made it 4, but Anthony missed it. Brooklyn then went down and chose to play to win, with LeVert isolated against McCollum – whom he attacked relentlessly in the fourth inning.
But even though LeVert had a quality shot, it went as expected, and Portland was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Going forward when I shoot, I just try to read the defense,” said LeVert. “I feel like they’re playing a game of driving, I have to watch it again, but these are all shots that I practice every day so I’ll live with it.”
However, that won’t be a problem for Portland. Instead, Blazers’ focus will be on trying to rest and recuperate for Saturday’s match against Memphis – and, potentially, the match with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers awaits after.
If someone thinks Portland is celebrating its play-in record, think again. Blazers have bigger things in mind.
“I would say we were happy [and] assurance. We are very happy to make it to the play-in round. [But] It’s not like we’re jumping up and down, ”says Stotts.
“We are where we want to be. I don’t think anyone is on the moon right now. We know that we’ve met a tough opponent in Memphis, so there’s no real time to go. celebration.”
Instead of celebrating, Lillard thought of something else: an ice bath after the game to begin preparing his body for Saturday’s match with the Grizzlies. But he said his mind had started to work.
“I will always be ready,” said Lillard. “I never worry about that.”