Lillard did everything to give Portland a berth in the NBA’s first play-in series, scoring 42 points to help the Trail Blazers escape with a 134-133 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.
“The urgency, the energy, the pace, everything, it felt like something was at stake,” LIllard said.
The Trail Blazers earned the No.8 seed in the Western Conference only after the Caris LeVert, who scored 37 points, missed a jumper just before time runs out. Portland will play ninth seed Memphis on Saturday. If the Grizzlies win, the deciding game would be Sunday.
The winner of the play-in series gets the final spot in the West and a first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland entered the day in eighth place, but would have fallen out of the playoff position with a loss, thanks to wins earlier Thursday by Memphis and Phoenix. If the Blazers had lost, the Suns would have beaten them in the ninth.
But Lillard hasn’t let the Blazers down, after appearing 51 and 61 points in the previous two games not only with a more sensational score, but also with huge defensive play.
He chased LeVert for a steal with Portland clinging to a two-point lead with 1:12 remaining, setting up CJ McCollum’s free throws that made 134-130. LeVert came back with a three-point game and had a chance to win it after Carmelo Anthony missed a 3 point, but his jumper was broken.
Unlike the Grizzlies and Suns, who let off steam in their afternoon games, the Blazers had to go to the wire to beat the Nets. Portland scored 73 points in the first half, but led by just six after Brooklyn shot 59 percent.
LeVert then scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, part of what became a 17-3 run as Brooklyn turned an eight-point deficit into a 91-85 lead. A 3-point by Luwawu-Cabarrot extended the lead to 102-92 with 1:46 left in the period and the Nets took a 104-97 advantage in the fourth.
Lillard then hit a few 3s – one with one foot touching the logo near midfield – in a 12-4 push that eliminated a seven-point deficit and put Portland back atop 112-111.
“Honestly, the roll he did, we missed a few shots and it’s Lady,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Lillard’s decision to throw from 36 feet with the Nets trying to get the ball out of his hands as soon as he crossed midfield. .
Brooklyn would later come up by five before Portland pulled it back.
McCollum had 25 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Blazers, who went 6-2 in standings games.
Joe Harris and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each scored 19 points for the Nets, who finished 5-3. They were already locked in a first-round streak with defending champion Toronto, but played their starters like they needed the win.
“Like I said, we’ve played eight great games, but now is the time to really lock in,” LeVert said.
Trail Blazers: Stotts has confirmed that McCollum is battling an injury but won’t offer many details. “He’s got the problem with his back he’s playing through and that’s about all I can say,” Stotts said.
Nets: Brooklyn played its last night game for a while. The first three games of the series against Toronto all start in the afternoon. Game 4, scheduled for August 23, kicks off at 6:30 p.m. EDT. … Chris Chiozza (right adductor strain) and Donta Hall (sprained right ankle) sat down.
HOPES FOR HARRIS
General manager Sean Marks, in an interview with Yes Network, said Harris re-signing will top the team’s list this summer.
“Priority # 1. It’s that simple, yeah,” Marks said. “Joe, I think we’ve talked about it a lot. We are obviously very proud of where Joe comes from and where he is today. And it continues to improve. Still wants to work on his job. So yes, signing him and seeing him with this group will definitely be a priority for us.
Trail Blazers: Play Memphis on Saturday.
Nets: Play the first game against Toronto on Monday.