PORTLAND -- Make room 0.9, there's another game-winning, series-ending three-pointer in town.
Damian Lillard hit a 37-foot three-pointer as time expired to give the Trail Blazers a 118-115 victory versus the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference three-six matchup in front of a sellout crowd of 20,241 Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
“It was a great feeling. When it left my hands, it felt good," said Lillard. "I felt good about it. The last five or six minutes of the game, I just keep telling myself, like, for us to get this game, we was going to have to really, really dig to come out on top. The fact that I kept telling myself that and then we came out on top when the shot went in, I was like, man it really happened. We really dug and pulled it out. So it was a great feeling."
The Trail Blazers have now eliminated the Thunder 4-1 and will move on to the Western Conference semifinals to face the winner of the two-seven series between the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs. It is the 12th time in franchise history and the first time since 2016 that the Blazers have advanced to the conference semis.
Lillard turned in one of the best performances of his career even before hitting the game-winner, scoring 19 points in the first quarter and 15 in the second for 34 points in the first half, all of which Portland needed with the rest of the team struggling to put the ball in the basket. Not only the 6-3 point guard make 12 of his 18 shots from the field and six of nine from three, he played the entirety of the first half. He then came out of the half and played the entire third quarter.
Even before he went to the bench to start the fourth, trouble started to set in. The Thunder finished the third quarter on a 15-4 run to take an 90-88 lead into the final frame. Ultimately, the Thunder outscored the Trail Blazers 30-6 between the 3:29 mark of the third and the 7:45 mark of the fourth to take a 105-90 lead. And at that point, it seemed almost certain that the series would head back to Oklahoma City for a Game Six.
But then Portland got a boost from Jusuf Nurkic, who has not attended any games since breaking his left leg in two places in a double overtime victory versus the Brooklyn Nets on March 25. Nurkic left his house in the third quarter and arrived on the bench midway through the fourth, surprising his teammates and sending the arena into a frenzy.
Said CJ McCollum: "I knew Nurk didn’t want to leave his house, so seeing him come I knew we really had to get the win for the Big Fella."
That was ultimately up to the players on the court. Portland started chipping away at Oklahoma City's lead midway through the fourth. Moe Harkless finished back-to-back dunks to get the lead under double digits and then made two free throws after going 1-of-6 from the line to start the game. Enes Kanter, who ended up playing 32 minutes despite having his shoulder separated. McCollum, who sat out most of the first half due to foul trouble, made a pullup 16-footer and a floater.
But the Blazers needed some help from the Thunder as well, which they got from Paul George. While he finished with 36 points, he missed two free throws with just over two minutes to play, then he had the ball stripped by Seth Curry with just over a minute to play and Portland down two. On the ensuing possession, McCollum hit a deep pullup to tie the game at 113-113 with 57 seconds to go.
George would find a bit of redemption, answering McCollum's pullup with one of his own to retake the lead at 115-113 with 39 seconds to play, though Lillard would tie the game six seconds later with a tough reserve layup.
Portland needed one more miss for a chance to win the game, which they got courtesy of Russell Westbrook. His 20th missed field goal of the game, which came on a contested layup attempt, and an Al-Farouq Aminu rebound gave the Blazers the ball with a chance to win the game with 17 seconds to play.
Which, of course, is Dame Time.
With George covering him, Lillard went to his back and forth dribble, took a side step and elevated for the jumper. George was able to contest the shot, but as so many others have found out, contesting a Lillard attempt from one of the logos on the Moda Center floor is mostly futile. Lillard's attempt landed at the back of the rim and careened through the net, ending the game and Oklahoma City's season.
“I didn’t want to put it in the referee’s hands – where if there was contact and maybe they get away with contact or I end up having to take a tougher shot because there’s contact and they don’t want to decide the game," explained Lillard. "When I was standing there, I was like I’m going to shoot it. He was a little bit off of me and I was like this is enough space for me to just raise up and shoot it for game. At the last second, he stepped towards me a little bit and I was like, okay I’m going to pound-dribble, side-step and raise up. I just had to let it fly, shoot the ball high in the air to give it a chance and that’s what I did."
Lillard finished the game with 50 points, a postseason franchise record, to go with seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block in 45 minutes. His 10 three-pointers Tuesday night are also the second most in a playoff game in NBA history. He is now also the franchise leader in playoff made three-pointers.
“Damian’s performance was probably the best performance I’ve seen in person," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "I’ve seen 50 point games obviously, but the way he carried the team in the first half with CJ in foul trouble, the magnitude of the last shot, obviously to win a series – the fact that he’s now won two series on a single shot, or on two shots I should say. It was quite a performance. We had a lot of good effort up and down. You don’t win a game with one guy, but he certainly was special tonight."
Harkless finished with 17 points, with 10 of those coming in the fourth quarter, seven assists and a steal in 32 minutes. CJ McCollum also finished with 17 points in 31 minutes.
Kanter, despite being in significant pain for much of the game, put up his second double-double of the series with 13 points and 13 rebounds to go with four assists in 32 minutes. Seth Curry led the bench with seven points.
George finished with 36 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 42 minutes. Westbrook put up a triple-double of 29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds in the losing effort. Dennis Schroder added 17 off the bench and Jerami Grant finished with 16.
Now, the Trail Blazer wait to see whether they'll draw the Nuggets, who lead the series 3-2, or the Spurs in the next round. If they face the Nuggets, Games One and Two will be held in Denver, while the series versus the Spurs would start in Portland.