In the nightcap of Thursday’s slate of NBA seeding games, the Portland Trail Blazers held all of the cards. After the Memphis Grizzlies clinched a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament behind triple-doubles from Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas, the Phoenix Suns put pressure on Damian Lillard and company by completing an unbelievable 8-0 run with a rout over the Dallas Mavericks. That left Portland needing to topple the Brooklyn Nets in prime time and, if the Blazers fell short, Phoenix’s Cinderella run would continue into the weekend.
Unfortunately for the Suns, it was not to be, but the Blazers needed every bit of 48 minutes to escape with a win. Ultimately, Portland benefitted from a missed jumper in the final seconds and, by a final score of 134-133, the Blazers earned the victory and a trip to the play-in tournament.
From the opening tip, both teams operated at a torrid pace on the offensive end of the floor. After a rough performance in his last outing, Blazers guard CJ McCollum led the way early with 12 points in the first eight minutes.
CJ (12 PTS) is off to a hot start 💯 pic.twitter.com/s5hBPNsIIm
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 14, 2020
In opposition, Nets wing Caris LeVert scored ten points in the first six minutes, keeping Brooklyn engaged.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) August 14, 2020
The Nets were genuinely feisty in the early going, taking a lead late in the first quarter and playing the Blazers to a 31-31 draw in the first 12 minutes. Brooklyn shot 55 percent from the floor and, while McCollum got loose, the Nets were able to control Lillard with aggressive double-teaming all over the floor.
The second quarter was more of the same on both ends, with the offenses taking full advantage of the defenses. Portland used a 13-5 run to grab control, but Brooklyn didn’t fade away, scoring efficiently throughout the half.
LeVert keyed the offense for the Nets, scoring 18 points before halftime, and Brooklyn shot a blistering 59 percent in the first 24 minutes. It was the duo of Lillard and McCollum that held the edge, though, combining for 35 points to lead Portland to a six-point edge at the break.
Coming out of halftime, Lillard made an early statement, making a shot that he and (very) few others would even attempt under normal circumstances.
Degree of difficulty off the charts. 🤯
— NBA (@NBA) August 14, 2020
Portland threatened to put some distance on the scoreboard, stretching the advantage to eight points in a hurry, but Brooklyn had other ideas. Specifically, LeVert got loose early in the third quarter, helping the Nets take an unexpected lead at 94-87 with four minutes remaining in the period.
LeVert (28 PTS) taking over in the 3rd QTR 🍿 pic.twitter.com/g2K0IGIwty
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 14, 2020
Brooklyn extended their lead to as many as ten (!) points in the latter portion of the third quarter and, in short, the pressure was firmly on Portland with their season on the line. Even after showing a bit of life, the Blazers entered the closing period trailing by seven points and facing a suddenly confident Nets team.
Lillard, who played the entire second half, threw a haymaker in cutting the lead to 107-103, and he did so from the logo.
Within the next three minutes, Lillard connected on two more three-pointers, giving the Blazers the lead. The Nets simply wouldn’t fade, however, as Brooklyn exploited a porous Blazers defense in conjunction with legitimately impressive shot-making to reclaim control.
At the 3:17 mark, Lillard connected on a trio of free throws, allowing the Blazers to climb within a one-point margin. That set up a series of back-and-forth possessions, with LeVert dominating the likes of Gary Trent Jr. and Portland’s offense having their way with Brooklyn’s smaller defense.
Following a (very) rare miss, Lillard executed on the defensive end, generating a turnover in semi-transition. On the other end, McCollum knocked down a mid-range jumper to give the Blazers a four-point edge with less than a minute remaining.
Lillard comes up with the steal and then CJ McCollum extends the Blazers' lead late in the 4th!! pic.twitter.com/fi26zyAJ1Q
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 14, 2020
LeVert came up big with a three-point play and, following a missed three-point attempt from Anthony, the Nets were in a position to steal the game. Fortunately for Portland, however, a contested jumper by LeVert went begging in the final seconds and, by the narrowest of margins, the Blazers prevailed.
LeVert vs CJ, last possession pic.twitter.com/dXLOBjF6gm
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) August 14, 2020
Lillard finished the night with 42 points, including eight three-pointers, to go along with 12 assists. He played the entire second half and McCollum (25 points, seven assists) and Nurkic (22 points, 10 rebounds) provided support.
The next step for the Blazers is a 2:30 pm ET tip-off on Saturday against the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the play-in tournament. If Memphis claims the first game, the Blazers and Grizzlies will battle again on Sunday in a winner-take-all matchup with the No. 8 seed as the prize. If Portland prevails, the Blazers will advance to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, with Game 1 set for Tuesday at 9 pm ET on TNT.