Even a heroic and historic performance from Damian Lillard could not overcome the Trail Blazers’ leaky defense Tuesday night in a 147-140 defeat that left Portland one game away from elimination in the first round of the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets needed two overtimes, but finally overcame a 55-point, 10-assist effort from Lillard – the first time anyone has ever chalked up a 55-10 game in the playoffs.
Lillard hit tough clutch shot after even tougher clutch shot to get his team into the second overtime, after it trailed by 22 points in the second quarter, 3 with 12.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter, 9 with 2:16 to go n the first overtime and 3 before Lillard tied the score with 6.6 left in the first overtime.
For the game, Lillard scored his 55 points on just 24 shots, hitting 12-17 from long distance, 17-24 overall from the field and 9-10 from the foul line.
He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, 12 of his team’s 14 in the first overtime and all five of Portland’s second-overtime points.
In other words, 17 of the Blazers’ 19 in the two extra periods.
And Lillard knew what all that ended up meaning.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “We lost the game. I mean, at this point, all that matters is that we can't lose another game in this series.
“We go out there and we play to win a game, and we came up short. So, we’re going back home and it's a must-win or our season is over. And then we got to come back here and win on their floor again.
“So, I mean, that's what it is.”
From a Denver side of things, it was incredible the Trail Blazers emerged from the fourth quarter with a tie.
Portland had the ball with 12.4 seconds to go, trailing by three and the Nuggets allowed Lillard to shoot a three, rather than choosing to intentionally foul him and put him on the line for two shots.
I mean, have you seen this guy play? Do you know how many threes he’s made late in games to win or tie? Seriously.
But Lillard knocked down a 28-foot, game-tying three with 3.7 seconds left.
Then in the first overtime, Lillard hit another three to tie it with 6.6 seconds to go.
But the Blazers were playing uphill through most of both overtimes. They just couldn’t get stops.
Jusuf Nurkic fouled out in the fourth quarter and took with him Portland’s best chance of controlling Nikola Jokic. The Blazers were forced into double-teaming him at times and allowed too many open looks to Denver shooters.
And something needs to be said about the fouls being called on the team’s two centers.
Nurkic played just 24:10 before drawing his sixth foul. Jokic played 46:19 and was called for one foul.
ONE. And he doesn’t defend and rebound much differently that Nurkic.
On the other hand, Lillard played 51:44 and wasn’t called for ANY fouls. So, there is that.
The Blazer defense just isn’t geared for overtimes, when every possession has so much value. The Nuggets outshot the Trail Blazers from the floor overall, and from three. Once again, their very good offense could not overcome their poor defense.
But the game will forever be remembered not for the result, but strictly because of Lillard’s phenomenal performance. It was incredible.
Game 6 will be Thursday night in Portland, with the Blazers needing two straight wins to avoid elimination.