Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers struck first on Friday as they tipped off their bubble season with one of the highest-stakes matchups at Disney World.
The Trail Blazers fought off a big second half from Ja Morant and leaned on their three big scorers to pull out a critical overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
With the 140-135 win, the Trail Blazers closed within 2.5 games of the eighth-place Grizzlies in the bubble battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The win also moves them a half game ahead of the Sacramento Kings and a full game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs as six teams remain alive for the final playoff spot.
Blazers scorers catch fire
In short, the Blazers needed this one. And they got it thanks to big performances from Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. McCollum led the Blazers with 33 points and six assists while Lillard chipped in 29 points and nine assists.
Anthony tallied 21 points and seven rebounds while hitting a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime.
Nurkic big in first game back
Portland also got a big effort in the first game of the season for center Jusuf Nurkic, who added 18 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and five assists. Nurkic hadn’t played since suffering a gruesome knee injury late in the 2018-19 season and benefited from the extra time off during the NBA’s COVID-19 layoff.
The Blazers needed everything they got from their top scorers as Morant caught fire with 20 points after halftime in a 22-point, 11-assist effort. Jaren Jackson added 33 points in the loss.
Memphis and Portland could find themselves fighting for the final playoff spot if they maintain their spots in the standings.
If the ninth-place team finishes within four games of the eighth-place team, it will force a play-in series for the final playoff spot. The No. 8 seed would secure a playoff spot with one win, while the No. 9 would have to win two straight to gain the final playoff spot.
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