Damian Lillard put up one of the best scoring performances of his career and the Portland Trail Blazers survived a thrilling 115-104 showdown with the rolling Miami Heat Sunday to keep playoff hopes alive. Lillard was on fire all night and scored an incredible 49 points on 14-21 shooting - 9-12 from deep - to put the team on his back and will the Blazers to victory.
With the win Portland improved to 32-37, just one game behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed in the crowded Western Conference standings.
The opening minutes weren’t pretty for Portland, who looked sluggish playing the fifth game of a road trip and on a second night of a back-to-back. Hassan Whiteside scored on Miami’s first five possessions and for a moment it looked like the Blazers would have to be content with a predictable loss to an otherwise successful road trip.
But Damian Lillard seemed to have believed otherwise.
After falling behind by eight points at 14-6 and later 20-12, Lillard led a ferocious charge to pull within just one at the end of the first period and eventually take the lead early in the second. He had 15 points during his first shift, and after an extended rest returned to score six more before heading into to locker room to help counter Whiteside’s 16 points.
Portland also got another good shift from Noah Vonleh, who scored eight points of his own, including a few highlight reel dunks.
It all made for an ultra-fast paced, entertaining half of basketball. Both teams combined 35 three-point attempts with Portland getting the edge 7-4.
Portland Trail Blazers 52, Miami Heat 51
C.J. McCollum finally started to come alive after a quiet first half, scoring most of his 18 points after the break, but the story of the night was Damian Lillard, who continued his dominant outing with another 12 points in the third and then 16 more in the decisive fourth quarter to help seal the victory.
Miami opted not to trap or double-team Lillard, which allowed him to operate with ease and get into an uncanny rhythm from the get-go which lasted all night. Just about each time the Heat would threaten to make a run, Lillard would counter with a deflating three that kept the Blazers in control.
Meanwhile, Whiteside had little impact in the second half, mostly relegated to the bench with foul trouble.
Also making his presence felt, Jusuf Nurkic was instrumental during the final frame, scoring in the pick and roll, grabbing key offensive rebounds and using his immense size to draw fouls. The Bosnian Beast finished with 21 points, 12 boards and 3 blocks in yet another feat of his growing legacy in Portland.
The Blazers get a welcome return to the Moda Center for an important stretch beginning with the visiting Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night at 7 p.m. PST.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter