With the season threatening to slip away, Damian Lillard decided it was time to shoot, even though he was so far his foot was touching the logo near midcourt.
A few minutes later, he flung his body to the floor near the same spot, coming up with a steal that was the biggest defensive play of the game.
Lillard did it all to give Portland a spot in the NBA’s first play-in series, scoring 42 points to help the Trail Blazers escape with a 134-133 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.
“The urgency, the energy, the pace, everything, just felt like something was on the line,” LIllard said.
The Trail Blazers secured the No 8 seed in the Western Conference only after Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, who scored 37 points, missed a jumper just before time expired. Portland will play ninth-seeded Memphis on Saturday. If the Grizzlies win, the deciding game would be Sunday.
The winner of the play-in series gets the final spot in the West and a first-round series against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland came into the day in eighth place, but would have fallen out of playoff position with a loss, thanks to victories earlier Thursday by Memphis and Phoenix. Had the Blazers lost, the Suns would have inched ahead of them into ninth.
He chased down LeVert for a steal with Portland clinging to a two-point lead with 1:12 to play, setting up CJ McCollum’s free throws that made it 134-130. LeVert came back with a three-point play and had a chance to win it after Carmelo Anthony missed a tthree-pointer, but his jumper was off.
Unlike the Grizzlies and Suns, who romped in their afternoon games, the Blazers needed to go all the way to the wire to beat the Nets. Portland scored 73 points in the first half, but led by only six after Brooklyn shot 59%.
LeVert then scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, part of what became a 17-3 run as Brooklyn turned an eight-point deficit into a 91-85 lead. A 3-pointer by Luwawu-Cabarrot extended the lead to 102-92 with 1:46 left in the period and the Nets took a 104-97 advantage to the fourth.
Lillard then hit a couple of threes one with a foot touching the logo near midcourt during a 12-4 surge that wiped out a seven-point deficit and put Portland back on top 112-111.
“Honestly the roll that he’s been on, we were missing some shots and that’s Dame,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said about Lillard’s decision to launch from 36 feet with the Nets trying to force the ball out of his hands as soon as he crossed midcourt.
Brooklyn would later go back on top by five before the Portland pulled it out.
McCollum had 25 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Blazers, who went 6-2 in the seeding games.
Joe Harris and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each scored 19 points for the Nets, who finished 5-3. They were already locked into a first-round series with defending champion Toronto but played their starters as if they needed the win.
Grizzlies 119, Bucks 106
Jonas Valanciunas and Ja Morant had triple-doubles and Memphis kept their season alive with a victory over Milwaukee, which was missing star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo after he was suspended for head-butting an opponent.
Dillon Brooks added 31 points as Memphis posted its second wire-to-wire win of the season and wrapped up a spot in the play-in series. Memphis hasn’t been to the playoffs the last two years after making seven straight postseason appearances from 2011-17.
Valanciunas had 26 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists for his first triple-double in his 559th career game. The 28-year-old Valanciunas’ previous career high in assists was five. Morant had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
This marked the first time two teammates posted triple-doubles in the same game since Miami’s Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler did it on 10 December in a 135-121 overtime victory over Atlanta.
Brook Lopez scored 19 points for the Bucks, who already had clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for a second straight season.
Suns 128, Mavericks 102
Devin Booker scored 27 points and Phoenix rolled past Dallas to finish as the only unbeaten team in the restart.
Dario Saric scored 16 points and Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson each added 15 for the Suns.
Dallas was already locked into a playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, so the starters played limited minutes. Luka Doncic had 18 points in just over 13 minutes. Boban Marjanovic, Dallas’ 7ft 4in reserve center, had 18 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
Jazz 118, Spurs 112
Rayjon Tucker scored 18 points and Utah beat San Antonio after the Spurs were eliminated from playoff contention, ending their streak of postseason appearances at 22 years.
Jarrell Brantley added 13 for the Jazz, and Donovan Mitchell had 11 points in 11 minutes.
Keldon Johnson scored 24 points for the Spurs. The Spurs were officially ousted when Memphis beat Milwaukee, and Phoenix completed an undefeated eight-game run in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World with a victory over Dallas.
Kings 136, Lakers 122
Buddy Hield scored 28 points, including a three-pointer that capped Sacramento’s streak of 11 consecutive baskets the third period, and the Kings beat Los Angeles.
Bogdan Bogdanovic had 27 points as the Kings won for only the third time in the NBA restart. The Kings made 21 three-pointers, with Hield going 8 of 14.
The Lakers had their focus on the playoffs. Most Lakers starters were held out, but LeBron James had 17 points in 15 minutes, all in the first half. Dion Waiters led the Lakers with 19 points. Markieff Morris had 14.
Los Angeles locked up the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed three games into the restart.
Wizards 96. Celtics 90
Thomas Bryant had 26 points and nine rebounds to help Washington beat Boston for its lone win in the restart.
Troy Brown Jr added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Wizards.
The Celtics, who already were locked into a playoff matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, rested their starters. Rookie Javonte Green took advantage and scored a season-high 23 points for Boston.
Magic 133, Pelicans 127
Nikola Vucevic scored 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the floor and Orlando tuned up for the postseason by beating New Orleans to snap a five-game skid.
Both teams were missing many of their top players in a regular-season finale that carried no playoff implications.
Orlando was locked into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in a first-round series beginning Tuesday. New Orleans already was out of playoff contention, so its season ended.
Frank Jackson scored 31 points for the Pelicans.