Lillard's historic night lifts Blazers to 134-131 win
A historic game by Damian Lillard kept the Portland Trail Blazers' playoff hopes alive and well Tuesday night.
The superstar point guard tied his career high with 61 points, becoming the first Blazer to score more than 50 in consecutive games, and made a couple key plays down the stretch as Portland beat Dallas 134-131 in the NBA bubble at Orlando, Florida.
The Mavericks (43-31) played their best players — Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis and everybody else — to try to win the game, and perhaps move up in the NBA Western Conference (and avoid a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers). And, the Blazers matched them, punch for punch, in an exciting win that moved them into the No. 8 spot with one game to play, 6 p.m. Thursday against Brooklyn.
But, it's tight for the No. 8-vs.-No. 9 play-in game (or games) this weekend. The Blazers (34-39) lead Memphis (33-39), Phoenix (33-39) and San Antonio (32-38) each by a half-game. The eighth and ninth teams will be decided by win percentage; tiebreakers do apply.
It's all to be decided Thursday: Milwaukee vs. Memphis, Dallas vs. Phoenix, San Antonio vs. Utah, Portland vs. Brooklyn.
"Ain't nothing I want more. I ain't coming here to waste my time," Lillard told TNT after the game. "They gave us a chance to get in (the playoffs) like we asked for, that's what we're here to do. Job's not done. We're fighting for it."
The Brooklyn game is "the most important game of our lives," he added. "We control our own destiny and know what we gotta do."
Coach Terry Stotts said Tuesday's game rivaled a 50-point game last year in a playoff close-out game against Oklahoma City for Lillard's best ever.
"We lose this game, we might not make it to the playoffs," the coach said.
Stotts credited big men for setting picks and teammates against the Mavs, but "that was Dame's night. ... He's a remarkable player."
Said Lillard: "I know it was a great game, but I'm going out there doing whatever I gotta do to win these games. Whatever's necessary."
Lillard tied the game at 130-130 with a 33-foot, 3-pointer with 1:29 left, with the ball bouncing high in the air and falling through the hoop.
Lillard said, sentimentally, it was his late cousin in heaven who helped the basket go in.
"I probably said 20 'please,' repeatedly," Carmelo Anthony said, of the bouncing basket. "It wasn't meant for us to lose when that shot went in."
Then, Porzingis, who had 36 points, fouled out with 1:18 left — a call that Dallas challenged and lost.
Lillard dished to Hassan Whiteside, who dunked for a 132-130 Portland lead.
Doncic, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, drew a shooting foul, but missed the first free throw, leaving it 132-131.
After a Lillard miss, the Portland leader made another great play, drawing an offensive foul on Trey Burke with four seconds remaining.
CJ McCollum, who reportedly played with a fracture in his back, buried two free throws at the other end, and Tim Hardaway Jr.'s last-second 3-pointer missed for Dallas.
Lillard said a team would win when they could get a defensive stop in an offensive game. It was Portland that did it.
"It was who wanted it more," he told TNT. "Down the stretch, we were the team that made the plays."
Lillard previously scored 61 points against Golden State on Jan. 20, during a torrid stretch for the perennial All-Star guard. He tallied 51 in the previous game in the bubble, Sunday against Philadelphia, and then wouldn't be denied against the Mavericks.
He hit 17 of 32 shots (9 of 17 3-pointers) and all 18 free-throw attempts. Oh, he also added eight assists and five rebounds (with only three turnovers).
McCollum, for good reason (back), had an off night with eight points (2 of 14 from the field), but trusty veteran Anthony picked up the slack with 26 points (10 of 17 from the field, including three 3-pointers). Zach Collins and Gary Trent Jr. added 11 points each.
Portland made 20 3-pointers and 27 of 29 free throws, while shooting .519 from the field.
Hardaway added 24 points for the Mavericks.
Portland and Dallas, two profilic offenses, took turns not playing the best of defense.
Dallas started fast, but Portland closed the first quarter on a 15-0 run, capped by Whiteside's basket, to lead 38-31.
Lillard had 25 points and Porzingis and Doncic 16 each in the first half, after which Portland led 66-58.
The Mavericks rallied to tie in the third quarter, and Lillard and Anthony shot-making helped Portland lead 98-95 after three quarters.
Then, it came down to the fourth quarter, and Portland's superstar stepped up — again. Lillard finished with 61 points and became only the 12th player in NBA history with consecutive games of 50 points or more. He's also one of two NBA players (along with Wilt Chamberlain) to have three 60-point games in one season.
"I'm happy to be in that type of company," Lillard said.
Lillard's scoring explosions came after he missed two late free throws in a loss to the Clippers.
"He's come out very focused and determined," Stotts said. "No one felt worse about losing the Clipper game than he did. He's showing a lot of resolve. His leadership — his game speaks for itself, but he's bringing the team along with him."
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