Blazers escape with needed win, beat Philly 124-121
Playing against another undermanned team, the Trail Blazers escaped from what could have been another unfortunate loss.
Damian Lillard scored 51 points, his fifth game with 50-plus points this season, and converted a key four-point play and followed up with another 3-pointer as the Trail Blazers held off Philadelphia 124-121 Sunday in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Portland trailed by six points late, but hit big shots and got a big final defensive stop to hold onto the three-point victory.
"We just had to buckle down. That's a team that wasn't going to quit. They play the same way every time down the court. They play hard, they play physical," Carmelo Anthony said in a postgame interview on NBC Sports Northwest.
After losing to the Los Angeles Clippers, who played without Kawhi Leonard and then Paul George down the stretch, the Blazers took on a Sixers team fresh off dealing with news of Ben Simmons being out (knee) and then Joel Embid played only six minutes Sunday before exiting (ankle).
And, it was close. But, Lillard came through, after lamenting two important missed free throws at the end of the Clippers game.
"I was irritated with myself," Lillard said. In the fourth quarter, "I thought to myself, 'It's not going to go that way again. We're going to get this done.' After yesterday, I knew how important it was to win the game."
Added Anthony: "This was expected, the way he approached the game today. It's a testament to how great of a player and person he is, and how strong his mindset is."
Still, perhaps fatigued from the frantic push to make the NBA playoffs — meaning the Western Conference No. 8-vs.-No. 9 play-in games — the Blazers led throughout the game Sunday only to fall behind 92-91 after three quarters on Josh Richardson's short jumper.
Sans Simmons, the Sixers, led by Richardson and fellow guard Alec Burks, took a 114-108 lead with just over four minutes left.
The Blazers turned around the game with a 12-0 run that started with Anthony hitting a 3-pointer. Lillard scored the final seven points of the run, converting a four-point play to put Portland up 117-114 with 2:53 on the clock when he drew a foul from Josh Richardson as he hit a 3-pointer.
Lillard looked at the scoreboard after his four-point play.
"I wanted to get to the point where we got the lead and just keep the lead, instead of playing from behind. 'OK, now let's walk away from them and close out the game and stop messing around with our season,'" Lillard said.
On the next possession, Lillard again hit from deep and it was 120-114.
The Sixers drew within 122-121 on Al Horford's 3-pointer with 13 seconds left, but after a timeout, Jusuf Nurkic canned two free throws with 10.2 seconds left.
On the final Sixers possession, Anthony forced Richardson into a contested 3-pointer that missed. Nurkic, Lillard and CJ McCollum were involved in a volleyball battle for the rebound that kept Philadelphia from getting off another shot.
"It was a scramble," Anthony said. "We knew we just wanted to switch everything, no easy baskets, keep them in front of us. And we did that. We toughed it out, got the rebound and sealed it."
Said coach Terry Stotts: "I thought everybody was locked in. (Anthony) was aggressive on Richardson, made it difficult for him, made him take a tough shot. There was a scramble. It wasn't pretty, but they didn't score."
Portland (33-39) is 4-2 in the NBA bubble, but have played three consecutive games against teams that played without top players. (Denver sat four starters in a Portland win). It remains to be seen what Tuesday's 2 p.m. game against Dallas brings, as the Mavericks planned to rest Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in Monday's game; presumably, they would play Tuesday.
The Blazers trail Memphis by a half-game for No. 8 in the Western Conference and lead San Antonio by a half-game for No. 9. After Dallas, the Blazers close out the eight-game NBA restart Thursday against Brooklyn. The No. 8-vs.-No. 9 play-in games would be 11 a.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday (if necessary).
Lillard hit 16 of 28 shots from the field (4 of 12 3-pointers) and 15 of 16 free throws. He is the eighth player in NBA history to have five or more such 50-plus-points games in a season.
Anthony added 20 points, and moved past John Havlicek and Paul Pierce and into 15th in all-time NBA scoring. McCollum had 16 points and Nurkic, who battled through foul trouble while playing the second game of a back-to-back situation, added 15 points.
Nurkic picked up two fouls seconds apart and went to the bench with 10:32 left in the first quarter. Wenden Gabriel took his place, with Hassan Whiteside (left hip strain) unavailable for the second game in a row.
Mario Hezonja had 12 points and seven rebounds, but the Blazers' bench scored only 20 points.
The Blazers really struggled from 3-point land, going 11 of 35 (.314). The hot-shooting Gary Trent Jr. cooled off, going 1 of 6 and scoring five points (none in the second half).
Richarson had 34 points and Burks 20 for Philadelphia (42-28).
The Sixers were out of sorts early on, given the news about Simmons and Embid leaving after six minutes, limping off the floor after he landed awkwardly after making a defensive play at the rim.
But, as with the Clippers the day before with basically second-string players, the Sixers' shorthanded lineup pushed the Blazers to the limit.
Portland led 33-19 after one quarter, as Lillard scored 14 points and Philly went 6 of 24 from the floor. Two of Lillard's first-quarter points came in flukey fashion. He drove into the key and tried to kick a pass out, but the ball deflected off of the Sixers' Tobias Harris and into the basket.
The Sixers got better and closed to within a single-digit deficit, trailing 67-58 at halftime after Richardson's last-second free throws.
It got closer in the third quarter. Horford scored to tie it, 86-86, and then Richardson's score with 4.4 seconds left gave the Sixers their first lead at the quarter break, 92-91.
Philadelphia continued to push against the reeling Blazers, who called timeout with 3:09 left. And, then Lillard's four-point play 16 seconds later changed the course of the game.
The Blazers outscored the 76ers by 13 points from the foul line, converting 27 of 29 free throws.
"We got the win," Stotts said.
And, on a side note, Anthony moved past a couple Boston Celtics greats in Havlicek and Pierce on the all-time scoring list. Next up is San Antonio's Tim Duncan (26,496) in 14th.
"I appreciate it, it's a great milestone and I don't want to downplay it, but it's very hard to talk about it. We're in this dogfight and there's so much more we have to accomplish," Anthony said.
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