PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Damian Lillard hit a 37-footer at the buzzer and finished with career playoff-high 50 points to help the Portland Trail Blazers eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder from the playoffs in five games with a 118-115 victory on Tuesday night. With the game tied, Lillard dribbled just inside of half court near the Blazers logo and then pulled up and hit the game-winner. Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder bench after nailing the shot, then was promptly mobbed by his teammates. As the Thunder left the floor, Lillard circled the court, high-fiving fans. The crowd chanted “MVP! MVP!” Lillard had 10 3-pointers, breaking the franchise record. Portland advances to the Western Conference semifinals to face the winner of the series between the Nuggets and San Antonio. Denver won 108-90 earlier in the night to take a 3-2 lead in that series. It was the 12th straight road playoff loss for the Thunder, who have been eliminated in the opening round for three straight seasons. Russell Westbrook had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for his 10th career playoff triple-double and his second of the series. Paul George added 36 points. Lillard had 34 points in the first half alone, more than Westbrook and George had combined (32) for the Thunder, but the Blazers had just a 61-60 edge going into the second half. The Thunder led 90-88 going into the final quarter. Westbrook hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead while Lillard took a break on the bench. Oklahoma City went up 105-90 with 7:45 left on Dennis Schroder’s pull up jumper as Portland struggled. Lillard’s 3-pointer pulled the Blazers within 108-103, but Westbrook answered with his own 3-pointer. CJ McCollum’s bank shot cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 113-109 with 1:39 left. Maurice Harkless added free throws to get the Blazers within two. McCollum tied it with a jumper with just under a minute left, but George scored on the other end. Lillard’s layup re-tied it before he hit his epic 3-pointer. McCollum finished with 17 for the Blazers and Enes Kanter had 13 points and 13 rebounds. The Blazers stole one in Oklahoma City, winning 111-98 on Sunday. Westbrook went cold, finishing 5 of 21 from the field for 14 points. He missed his final 10 shots. Lillard finished with 24, including 15 in the third quarter. Portland was swept in the first round of the playoffs for the past two seasons, last year by New Orleans and the previous year by Golden State. The Blazers last trip to the Western Conference semifinals came in 2016, when they beat the Clippers in the opening round before falling to the Warriors in five games. The Thunder also got knocked out in the opening round for the past two seasons. In 2016, a year after missing the playoffs entirely, they went to the conference finals but lost to Golden State. The Thunder went up 22-12 early, and George made his first six shots from the floor. Oklahoma City held a 37-29 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Lillard led all players with 19 points. McCollum got into foul trouble and headed for the bench. Lillard’s long 30-foot 3-pointer pulled Portland within 43-39. George collected his third foul midway through the quarter after scoring 17 points. Another Lillard 3 closed the gap to 52-50 and the Blazers pulled in front 56-55 with 1:42 to go in the half on Seth Curry’s 3-pointer. The Blazers led 61-60 at the break, led by Lillard with 34 points. Kanter, who became Portland’s starter when Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg late in the season, was clearly having trouble with his left shoulder. He came down hard on it late in the half and cried out in pain but he started the second half. George and Steven Adams each collected a fourth foul in the third quarter but remained in the game. Westbrook’s layup put the Thunder up 73-70. The lead was short-lived, and Portland went up 84-75 on Lillard’s fadeaway 3-pointer. Afterward he shot a look at Oklahoma City’s bench. But the Thunder weren’t done. Westbrook hit a 3-pointer to put Oklahoma City in front 88-86 and added a basket to extend the lead.
Thunder: OKC coach Billy Donovan knew before the game what the Thunder were up against: “You throw everything you have into this game. It’s a matter of a collectively going out there to play to the best of their ability.”
Trail Blazers: McCollum had scored at least 20 points in each of his last seven playoff games. Lillard has had 30-plus points 12 times in the postseason. His effort on Tuesday night surpasses his previous playoff high of 40 set against the Warriors in 2016. Portland has won 10 straight at home in the regular season and playoffs. Nurkic was at the game, his first appearance of the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of KGW.