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
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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.”


Leonard scores 35, Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 for 3-2 lead

Updated 16 min 40 sec ago
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Leonard scores 35, Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 for 3-2 lead

  • Leonard hit the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the series

MILWAUKEE: Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 105-99 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Leonard showed no obvious signs of the leg soreness that bothered him in Toronto’s victories in the previous two games, hitting the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the series. He made five 3-pointers and had seven rebounds and nine assists.
Fred VanVleet scored 21 points, hitting seven 3s. Kyle Lowry added 17 as the Raptors put themselves in position to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time. A victory at home Saturday would set up a matchup with two-time defending champion Golden State.
“This was a super-hard win tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
The Raptors battled out of an early 14-point hole, then got 15 points from Leonard in the fourth quarter to send the top-seeded Bucks to their first three-game losing streak of the season.
“We weathered the storm early,” Leonard said.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points for Milwaukee hours after being announced as a unanimous first-team, All-NBA selection. Eric Bledsoe scored 20 and Malcolm Brogdon added 18 points and 11 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup.
“It’s first to four. We’ve got to go to Toronto, get a game. I think the group will be ready,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
The Raptors were clinging to a two-point lead in the closing minute after Khris Middleton drove around Leonard on the baseline for a layup.
Toronto was initially called for a shot-clock violation when Leonard missed a fadeaway jumper with 35 seconds left. That got overturned by a replay review, and Brook Lopez was called for a foul, instead, for bumping Marc Gasol after he retrieved the loose ball.
Gasol hit both free throws to make it 100-97. Another replay review went in Toronto’s favor when officials determined a ball went out of bounds off Brogdon with 26.8 seconds left. Brogdon pulled his hand away, thinking his dribble had gone off Pascal Siakam’s foot.
Siakam then drove for a dunk, making it 102-97, and the Raptors hung on from there.
Milwaukee was leading 81-79 with about 8 1/2 minutes left when Leonard nailed back-to-back 3-pointers. He hit two free throws before Siakam threw down a put-back dunk to make it 89-81.
The Bucks tied it at 93-all with 2:44 left on a 3-pointer by Lopez. VanVleet answered with one of his own before Antetokounmpo threw down an alley-oop dunk to cut it to 96-95 with just over two minutes remaining.
The Bucks set a fast pace early on and led by 10 after the first quarter, delighting the towel-waving fans chanting “Fear The Deer! Fear the Deer!” They withstood a 16-2 run by Toronto to start the second, with Antetokounmpo nailing a 3 to stop it.
The Bucks also went on a 14-2 run early in the third, with the Greek Freak throwing down a hard dunk off a feed by Middleton for a 63-51 lead. But the Raptors got right back into it.

Tip-ins

Raptors: Lowry now has 1,126 points in 66 playoff games for Toronto, surpassing DeMar DeRozan (1,117) as the franchise’s postseason scoring leader.
Bucks: Brogdon started all 64 games he played in during the regular season, before missing basically all of the first two rounds because of a heel injury. With Brogdon back in the lineup, Nikola Mirotic came off the bench.

Up next

Game 6 is at Toronto on Saturday.