All the games prior to the break, all the weeks of the hiatus, all the scrimmages and then the games in the NBA bubble -- and the Trail Blazers’ season Thursday night came down to just one shot.
And this time it wasn’t even a shot by a Portland player.
Brooklyn’s Caris Levert, who had already scored 37 points on 16-for-29 shooting, played the clock down in the fourth quarter with his Nets trailing by a single point.
He was closely guarded by CJ McCollum but got some space with a step-back move and lofted an arching jump shot from near the top of the key as the game clock neared :00.
The city of Portland held its breath.
If the ball goes in, the Trail Blazers’ season is over. Finished. Done. If it misses, the team moves on to a play-in series against Memphis, in which the Grizzlies must defeat the Trail Blazers twice before Portland wins once. One win from a playoff berth.
“I was tired,” Damian Lillard said. “I had played the whole second half. I was just like, ‘Please miss. Please get the rebound and let’s end this game.’”
It did miss. And when Carmelo Anthony grabbed the rebound and hugged it, the game was over, a 134-133 win.
Asked what that moment felt like, Coach Terry Stotts played the levity card.
“Trust in our defense,” Stotts said. And when that was met with deserved silence, he pulled his COVID-19 mask down, revealing a big smile and added, “I’m smiling.
“Honestly, we played good defense down the stretch. We just couldn’t get a rebound. We forced them into some tough shots but that’s how it is. I’m glad we got the stop when we needed it.”
Jokes aside, the Trail Blazers’ defense didn’t make the trip to Florida with the team. Stotts’ team survived another tightrope walk to the finish line and ended the seeding portion of its schedule with a 6-2 record.
Of course, just like those other wins, Lillard played a starring role.
He made 13 of 22 shots, including 8-14 from three-point range, scored 42 points and handed out 12 assists. His three-point shooting was critical, since his teammates went a combined 5-25 from three on a night when a Brooklyn zone defense left guys not named Lillard wide open for threes, many of them even being the easier variety, from the corner.
The Nets’ plan was to take the ball out of Lillard’s hands as much as possible with traps and double-teams. And they were able to do that often.
But Lillard was still able to wear them out with his scoring and passing.
Brooklyn, meanwhile, was hitting at 55.2 percent overall and 42.4 percent from three. And if that wasn’t enough to do in Portland, the Nets worked the offensive boards to death in the fourth quarter.
Brooklyn got seven of its 14 offensive rebounds in the final period and turned them into seven points.
Portland got a big game from CJ McCollum alongside Lillard. McCollum, dealing with a broken bone in his back, scored 25 points and had seven assists.
Jusuf Nurkic, fighting off foul trouble, finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds and Hassan Whiteside was solid off the bench with 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
But still, this was a Damian Lillard game.
And just one more team -- the Grizzlies -- stands in the way of a Portland playoff appearance. And perhaps one more tightrope walk to the end of a game.