Damian Lillard had 34 points and the Portland Trail Blazers spoiled LeBron James’ first playoff appearance for the Los Angeles Lakers with a 100-93 victory on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the teams’ playoff series.
James had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists for this 24th postseason triple-double. His assists were a career playoff high.
Jusuf Nurkic had 16 points and 15 rebounds for Portland, who led by as many as 16 points in the first half. The Lakers narrowed the advantage to 57-56 at the break and stayed close the rest of the way.
Trailing 78-75 going into the final period, the Lakers tied it at 78 on Kyle Kuzma’s three-pointer. James’ layup gave Los Angeles the lead, and Kuzma added a pair of free throws and another layup to extend it to 84-78.
Lillard’s three-pointer tied it at 87 with 5:46 to go and CJ McCollum’s floater gave Portland the lead.
After Danny Green’s layup tied it again for Los Angeles, Lillard nailed a three-pointer. Anthony Davis’ dunk got the Lakers within 95-93, but Gary Trent Jr made a three-pointer that put Portland up 98-93 before Nurkic dunked to all but seal it.
Portland won the first play-in postseason NBA game since 1956, beating Memphis 126-122 on Saturday to make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. The Blazers were among three teams with losing overall records to make the bubble playoffs. No team below .500 had advanced to the postseason since 2015.
The Blazers were without forward Zach Collins because of inflammation in his left ankle. Wenyen Gabriel started in his place.
“I like his energy, particularly at the defensive end,” coach Terry Stotts said about Gabriel. “I like his length and athleticism. When you have a starting lineup with Dame, CJ, Melo and Nurk, I think he complements them. He doesn’t need the ball and I think he���ll make the plays that we need.”
Lilliard hit a three-pointer to put the Blazers up 26-15 in the opening quarter. Portland extended the lead to 33-17 after Nurkic’s dunk. Lillard had 15 points in the quarter.
James’s spin move before his layup closed the gap to 39-30. The Lakers got within 40-38 but couldn’t pull in front until Davis’ dunk off of James’ pass made it 50-49 with just over three minute left in the half. But the lead was brief.
The Blazers were able to stay in front throughout the third quarter, but the Lakers kept it close.
The game was delayed for a time in the first half when the Lakers’ rim got tilted and had to be adjusted.
The teams have met six times in a first-round series, with the Lakers winning five. It is the 12th time the teams have met in the playoffs.
The series continues with Game 2 on Thursday.