Lillard, Blazers send Thunder packing

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard watches his game-winning three-pointer as Oklahoma City Thunder' Paul George defends, to beat the Thunder 118-115 in Game 5 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series in Portland on April 23, 2019. (AP)
Updated 24 April 2019

Lillard, Blazers send Thunder packing

  • Lillard meanwhile revealed that Portland had been motivated by Oklahoma City’s exuberant celebrations after their win in Game 3

LOS ANGELES: Damian Lillard sank a three-pointer on the buzzer to cap a 50-point display as the Portland Trail Blazers completed a late fightback to send Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder crashing out of the NBA playoffs on Tuesday.

Needing a win to keep the best-of-seven series alive, Oklahoma City appeared to be on their way to forcing a Game 6 after overturning a nine-point deficit at the end of the third period to open up a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But a sensational burst of scoring hauled the Blazers back within striking distance as their home fans at the Moda Center roared them on.

Lillard leveled the score at 115-115 with a driving layup and when Westbrook subsequently fluffed a chance to restore Oklahoma City’s lead with 18.3 seconds left, Portland ace Lillard was left with a chance to grab the win.

The 28-year-old point guard took his time, eating up the final few seconds before sinking a three-pointer from long-range to seal a 118-115 win and a 4-1 series victory.

“Sometimes it’s your turn to go through something, and when you keep fighting, and keep working through it, and stay together, there’s a reward waiting for you,” Lillard said after the win.

Earlier, Lillard had kept Portland in contention almost single-handedly, playing all 24 minutes of the first half and knocking down 12 of 18 shot attempts to score 34 points by the break.

His first-half exploits appeared to have caught up with him as the Blazers flagged in the third period.

But the Portland talisman led a mesmerizing late rally to finish with 50 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Maurice Harkness added 17 points, Enes Kanter added 13 and C.J. McCollum finished with 17.

It was a disappointing end to the season for Westbrook, who added a triple double comprising 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists.

Paul George led the Thunder scoring with 36 points, adding nine rebounds and three assists in a losing effort.

Lillard meanwhile revealed that Portland had been motivated by Oklahoma City’s exuberant celebrations after their win in Game 3.

“They were out there doing all these celebrations,” he said. “After one win, that was what they decided to do. We were like, OK, we want to win four games, and then there won’t be nothing to talk about.”

Portland will face either Denver or San Antonio in the next round. The Nuggets took a 3-2 lead in their series after a 108-90 win earlier on Tuesday.

In the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers set up a heavyweight playoff battle after completing comfortable series victories.

The Sixers sealed a 4-1 series win after routing the Brooklyn Nets 122-100 while the Raptors swept to an emphatic 115-96 dismissal of the Orlando Magic to also win their series 4-1.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 23 points at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers were always in control after surging into a 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter.

They led 60-31 at half time as Brooklyn’s challenge effectively collapsed.

Embiid was again immense for Philadelphia, hauling in 13 rebounds to go with his points tally.

Five other Philadelphia players made double figures, with Ben Simmons scoring 13 points and Tobias Harris 12. JJ Redick and James Ennis III added 11 apiece. Jonathon Simmons finished with 10 from the bench.

Embiid believes the Sixers have the talent to mount a championship-winning playoff campaign.

“We think we can win it all,” Embiid said. “Obviously, it’s going to take a lot. You’ve got some great teams in the league, we’re about to play one of them,” the Cameroon international added.

“We just gotta take it one game at a time but we understand that we got all the talent we need, especially to win it all.”


Neymar future remains up in the air as PSG reject Madrid offer

Updated 23 August 2019

Neymar future remains up in the air as PSG reject Madrid offer

  • Paris club said to turn down an offer from Barcelona of €40 million plus Coutinho and Rakitic

PARIS: Neymar remains no closer to getting his desired move away from Paris Saint-Germain amid reports Thursday the French club have rejected an offer from Real Madrid of €100 million($111 million) plus players.

French sports daily L’Equipe said Real had offered cash plus Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but PSG turned it down because “the overall value of the offer did not match their expectations.” 

Paris paid €222 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona two years ago and their sporting director Leonardo is understood to be determined to only sell the forward for a deal considered to be of the same value.

Real have spent the summer trying to offload Bale, while James is unwanted after returning from a loan at Bayern Munich and Navas is no longer the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Meanwhile, Barcelona remain hopeful of bringing Neymar back to the Camp Nou, but Catalan daily Sport claims an attempt to sign the player on loan with an obligation to buy for €160 million at the end of the season has been firmly rejected in Paris.

Sport claims Barcelona feel “it is very clear that PSG are trying to prevent the Brazilian from returning to the Camp Nou in any scenario.” 

PSG had previously reportedly turned down an offer from Barcelona of €40 million  plus Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic. Coutinho has since joined Bayern on loan.

Juventus are also believed to have stated an interest in signing the 27-year-old, who has not featured in any of PSG’s matches so far this season having been frozen out amid the uncertainty over his future. The transfer window closes in France, Spain and Italy on Sept. 2, meaning time is fast running out for a deal to be done.

Watford loan Sweden winger Sema to Udinese

Watford winger Ken Sema has completed a season-long loan move to Udinese, the Serie A side confirmed on Thursday.

The six-times capped Sweden international only moved to Vicarage Road last summer from Ostersunds FK and made 22 appearances for the English club.

The 25-year-old's departure follows the arrival of Senegal international Ismaila Sarr to the Premier League outfit on a club record transfer of €35 million   ($38 million) from Rennes. The northeastern Italian club and Watford are both owned by the Pozzo family.

Udinese host AC Milan in their opening match of the Serie A season on Saturday.