With 6.8 seconds left on the clock and the Portland Trail Blazers down by three and with the ball, everyone figured it was about to be Dame Time.
Blazers guard Damian Lillard was going to get the ball somehow and fire up a shot to try to tie the game against the Boston Celtics. The play started out just fine. Lillard came off a screen and caught the ball at the 3-point line but was swarmed by three Celtics players.
Instead, Lillard quickly threw a pass to a cutting Jusuf Nurkic, who laid it in with 3.4 seconds to play, pulling Portland within one.
Boston hit a pair of free throws on the other end with three seconds to play, but Nurkic’s ensuing inbounds pass sailed out of bounds, and Boston walked away with a 128-124 victory on Sunday.
Lillard explained his decision, saying that he thought the Blazers would have more time after Nurkic’s layup went through the basket.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘Let me catch it and fire it as soon as I get space.’ I knew we didn’t have no timeouts,” Lillard said. “I caught it, and I was going to shoot it, but I saw Nurk come wide-open as soon as I caught it. I think I just overthought it.
“I threw it to Nurk, and he caught it, laid it up. In my mind, I was thinking, we cut it to one. It’ll be four seconds, maybe a little over four seconds. We foul. That’s enough time for me to get the ball up court and get in range to get a shot off, even if they make both free throws.
“But it turned out not to work in our favor. But looking back at it, it would have been a tough shot to get up, but I probably should have got the shot up as soon as I caught it.”
Lillard and Nurkic led a furious rally for Portland to be in the game with a chance to win at the end.
Boston led by as many as 24 points before Portland stormed back in the second half. Lillard finished with 30 points and 16 assists while Nurkic, playing in his just his second game in 16 months, had 30 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.
The loss dropped Portland to 2 1/2 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies, whom the Blazers defeated in their first seeding game. That, coupled with the San Antonio Spurs‘ win over the Grizzlies on Sunday, puts Portland 10th in the Western Conference with six seeding games to go.
Stotts said he doesn’t expect Sunday’s loss to linger for his team, thanks to how they’ve looked in seeding games so far.
“What I like about how we approach this is a pretty singular focus on how important each game is,” Stotts said. “The chatter or noise shouldn’t really affect us one way or the other.”
For Lillard, the postseason for Portland has already started.
“This is the playoffs for us,” he said. “We could be here for eight games and go home if we don’t treat it like it is. That’s what we played like.”