Once again, it was Dame Time when it mattered most for the Portland Trail Blazers. In a close game against the Suns, Lillard hit a huge layup with less than a minute left to put the Blazers up 117-114. His big shot amplified Dario Saric missing three of four free throws in the clutch.
Unfortunately, Lillard’s heroics weren’t enough to close out the game and guarantee a playoff spot.
The Suns made a huge mistake with five seconds left in the game after Devin Booker was called for a double dribble while trying to get past on a fast break. This forced the Suns to foul again with five seconds left after possession went back to the Blazers, but Robert Covington bricked both of his free throws to keep the score at 117-116 with 4.4 seconds left.
A defensive foul was called on the Blazers with 2.4 seconds left, which gave Devin Booker the chance to take two free throws for the win. This call was challenged, but it stood after review.
Booker, who had a tough night with 18 points while shooting 5 of 17 from the field, calmly sank his foul shots. He was a perfect 9 of 9 from the charity stripe. CJ McCollum was unable to score on the final heave, allowing the Suns to escape with a 118-117 final score. Chris Paul led all scorers with 26 points and chipped in seven assists, and Mikal Bridges added 21 of his own.
Lillard was the best player on the floor with 41 points, five rebounds, five assists, and a steal on 16 of 23 shooting. CJ McCollum added another 27 points and six assists.
The game had all the trappings of a playoff encounter, as it was competitive throughout and featured 25 lead changes and 18 ties.
Today’s result had huge implications for a lot of teams. If the Jazz drop a game, and the Suns win both their final games, then Phoenix will finish in first place, because they own the tiebreaker over the Jazz thanks to a 3-0 regular season record.
By losing today, the Blazers have also opened up the path for the Lakers to get the sixth seed, assuming the Lakers win their last two. If Portland lose to the Nuggets in their last game, LA can finish with a 42-30 record and the Blazers will finish 41-31. LeBron James, who has teased a return but has so far stayed on the bench, may be forced into playing at least one of the two back-to-back contests they have left to close the season. Those two wins are paramount.
The pressure on Dallas stays immense, too. Since they don’t have the tiebreaker against Portland, they’ve got to beat the Raptors and Wolves to hold on to the fifth seed. Splitting their games will keep them safely in the guaranteed slots as they have a tiebreaker on the Lakers. Losing both games, on the other hand, could push the Mavericks into the play-ins.
There’s all to play for in the last few days of the season, and it’s going to be exciting to watch that battle for the final rankings.