2019 NBA Playoffs

About Last Night: Lillard eliminates Thunder with 37-footer

Raptors, 76ers cruise to series-clinching victories; Nuggets trounce Spurs in pivotal Game 5

Damian Lillard would not let the Portland Trail Blazers lose.

Taking matters into his own hands, Lillard scored a career playoff-high 50 points, including a 37-footer at the buzzer to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder from the playoffs in five games with a 118-115 victory.

Amazingly, this wasn’t the first time Lillard called series. He did the same thing to the Houston Rockets in 2014.

Lillard was having a game for the ages even before the shot heard around the NBA. He played all 24 minutes of the first half, single-handedly keeping the Blazers close by scoring 34 points — the most by any player in one half in the postseason since Steve Nash in 2005.

It was a signature performance for Lillard, capped by a buzzer-beater that will go down in history. Let’s give it the Horry Scale treatment, shall we?

A reminder on The Horry Scale: It breaks down a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety night in November?) and celebration. Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, named for the patron saint of last-second answered prayers.

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DIFFICULTY: Lillard is no stranger to hitting big shots, but this was a 37-footer to clinch a playoff series. When it’s Dame Time, Lillard has a way of making the most difficult shots look easy.

GAME SITUATION: The Blazers erased a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter and pulled even, 113-113, on CJ McCollum’s 22-footer with 57 seconds left in regulation. Paul George and Lillard then exchanged buckets before Russell Westbrook missed a driving layup, which was corralled by Al-Farouq Aminu with 17.1 seconds left. Lillard took the handoff and calmly dribbled just inside of halfcourt near the Blazers logo, stared down Paul George, and then pulled up and hit the game-winner.

CELEBRATION: The 3-pointer gave Lillard 50 points for the game and he waved good-bye to the Thunder bench amid a thunderous roar from the hometown crowd. He was promptly mobbed by his teammates as confetti rained down. As the Thunder left the floor, Lillard circled the court, high-fiving fans while the crowd chanted “MVP! MVP!”

GRADE: It doesn’t get any better than this. Five Horrys.

Closeout specials in Toronto, Philly

To say the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers took care of business Tuesday night would be an understatement.

Both teams started fast and crusied to series-clinching wins in their respective Game 5s, advancing to face each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Kyle Lowry set the tone for the Raptors, scoring Toronto’s first nine points. Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic missed 10 of their first 11 shots and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first. The Raptors jumped out to a 24-7 lead and never looked back in their 115-96 victory.

Kawhi Leonard had another ruthlessly efficient game, scoring 27 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range. He checked out to cheers of “MVP, MVP” with 8:05 to play and Toronto up by 30.

The Sixers faced even less resistance from the Brooklyn Nets, who looked overmatched since winning the series opener.

Joel Embiid again shook off a bad left knee and had six points and five rebounds in the first two minutes. The Sixers scored the first 14 points of the game, and led 30-6 with two minutes left in the first quarter.

“They did whatever they wanted before we could even get on the board,” Nets All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell said.

Embiid finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds in just 20 minutes, and no starter played more than 27 minutes in the 122-100 romp.

If there’s one play that summed up this game, it’s Embiid’s baseline jam over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

So we finally get another Sixers-Raptors series. It’s been 18 years since Philadelphia and Tornoto met in the playoffs, when Allen Iverson’s 76ers defeated the Vince Carter-led Raptors in seven games.

Jokic, Nuggets throttle Spurs

The Denver Nuggets are on the verge of their first playoff series victory since 2009 after dismantling the San Antonio Spurs 108-90 in pivotal Game 5.

Once again the story was the Nikola Jokic, who finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists before sitting out most of the fourth quarter.

For the series, Jokic is averaging 19.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists.

“What Nikola Jokic is doing in his playoff debut has not happened very often in the history of this game,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “He can impact the game in so many ways … I hope this national TV audience is watching us and saying, ‘Man, this kid is for real.'”

Quote of the night

“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump.”

— Jamal Murray on Nikola Jokic

Tweet of the night

Stat of the night

Kawhi Leonard has never lost a game to the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s 13-0 in his career (3-0 this season).