It wasn’t the way you wanted to lose a decent playoff seeding. Or be vanquished to the play-in tournament. It wasn’t the way you wanted to lose ANY game, in fact.
But the Trail Blazers dropped a 118-117 game at Phoenix Thursday night that Damian Lillard did everything humanly possible for them to win.
But through an incredible set of circumstances, the Suns stole this one from Portland after an explosive fourth quarter in which Phoenix shot 68.8 percent from the field and the Blazers shot 73.7 percent.
For his part, Lillard made nine of his 10 shots, five of his six free throws and scored 24 points – in the fourth quarter!
The game turned with 5.6 seconds to play, after Devin Booker turned the ball over on a double-dribble call.
Portland inbounded the ball to Robert Covington, who was immediately fouled. He missed both shots, though, and after a timeout the Suns had the ball in their frontcourt with 4.4 seconds to go.
Phoenix inbounded to Booker, who was just 5-17 from the floor in the game. But Norman Powell was whistled for a foul as Booker attempted an off-balance, running one-hander through the lane that had little chance to go in.
Coach Terry Stotts then had a quick decision to make – gamble his last timeout challenging the call or don’t challenge and use that timeout to advance the ball for a final shot after the free throws.
The clock said .9, at first, but was reset later to 2.4. But Stotts said it wasn’t a tough decision.
“Well,” he said. “it wasn't difficult because there's point nine on the clock. I don't think if I challenge it, I don't know if they put more time on the clock.
“If it had been 2.4, I probably would have kept my timeout, advanced the ball and tried to get a last shot. But with point nine on the clock, it really wasn't that difficult.
“I don't think they go back and put time on the clock if there's no challenge.”
First, I do believe the officials would have made sure the clock was accurate before administering the free throws. They usually do in the waning moments of a game – you see it frequently.
Second, and even more important, I believe it’s possible to hit a game-winning shot with .9 left in a game. I've seen it. And I also believe Portland had a guy in uniform capable of hitting that shot. He's done it before. And he’d been on fire throughout the final quarter and finished the game with 41 points.
But Stotts lost the challenge, Booker made the free throws and without a timeout to advance the ball, the Blazers had to settle for a long bomb from CJ McCollum that came just after the horn.
McCollum and Lillard were sensational throughout and Covington had his big moments, too.
It was a bitter defeat for the Trail Blazers, who were locked in a back-and-forth game all night with the Suns. The fourth quarter was an amazing offensive show by both teams with stops a rarity.
The loss was likely a costly one for Portland, as it changed a possible fifth-seed, first-round playoff matchup against Denver to a sixth-seed likely series vs. the Los Angeles Clippers. Or worse, could lead to dropping them into the play-in tournament. A win, on the other hand, would have clinched a playoff berth that would have saved them from the play-in.
All of that postseason stuff will be settled Sunday at 6 p.m. in Moda Center when Denver hits town for the final regular-season game.